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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Hail to the New Chief: A Guide to the 2008 Presidential Candidates' Education Agenda

Where do the presidential candidates stand on public education?
By Shari Wargo
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Credit: Wesley Bedrosian

Public education promises to be an important component of any substantive discussion in the debates leading up to November's presidential election. But what -- if anything -- will really change when either Barack Obama or John McCain becomes president on January 20? Realistically, not much -- at least not right away. The new president's influence is likely to come subtly over the next few years. So we wondered how do the candidates differ on public education, if they differ at all. Here's a quick guide to how McCain and Obama feel about some of the hot buttons in public education.

  Obama: Calls the No Child Left Behind Act "a good start" and would revise rather than scrap it. Plans for increased funding.

  McCain: Described NCLB as "a major milestone" but has advocated for more flexibility in measuring progress in English-language learners and students with disabilities.
Technology in Schools
Obama: Encourages installation of broadband so that students have access to the Internet. Believes that teachers should be trained and that students in poorer areas should have increased access to tech.

McCain: Supports more funding for technology-based education such as online learning and virtual classrooms, but would leave the program specifics up to principals, superintendents, and school board members.
Closing the Achieve- ment Gap
Obama: Supports summer-learning opportunities for disadvantaged youth so they can improve in their academic careers.

McCain: Believes schools should offer after-hours tutoring, in which retired persons could volunteer. Supports online tutoring plus federal certification of all tutoring programs.
Early-Childhood Education
Obama: Has proposed a $10 billion early-childhood- education plan that includes increased funding to sustain Head Start and subsidize universal preschool.

McCain: Would boost funding for Head Start as a resource for early-childhood enrichment.
Curriculum Focus
Obama: Math and science would be the core focus, with additional emphasis on technology. Also encourages "creative classes" that encourage the development of critical-thinking skills and alternative methods of problem solving.

McCain: Would more strongly emphasize math, science, and English skills. Has yet to release his full education plan.
School Vouchers
Obama: Does not support school vouchers and has instead focused on reforming public schools.

McCain: Believes parents should have the right to choose what school their child attends and that federal funds should be available to help low-income families with private schools or homeschooling.
Merit Pay
Obama: Favors merit-pay bonuses in certain instances, such as when a classroom's academic performance improves or when a teacher mentors other teachers.

McCain: Supports a market-based system in which merit pay is given to teachers who achieve significant improvements in student performance compared to other schools, or work in hard-to-staff schools, and encourages staff development and new graduate recruitment.
Shari Wargo is a former editorial assistant at Edutopia.

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Michael Bentley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm disappointed that neither candidate favors scrapping the highly flawed NCLB altogether, which is my own preference as a teacher educator for over 40 years. However, Democrats have a history of being more supportive of education than the GOP, so I'm going to support Obama. McCain's interest in continuing our involvement in the Iraq occupation will continue to increase the deficit and deny funds for domestic programs. At least with Obama we have a better chance of getting out sooner and thus having more chance of funding for education. Also, Obama has a much better grasp of the potential of powerful education to enhance our democracy. I encourage educators at all levels to vote for Democrats in November. MB

Bill Dakelski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The No Child Left Standing Act is a waste of time money and effort and should be abandoned.
I recently attended a meeting of about 200 teachers, the speaker asked who in the audience thinks the NCLB is working and not one hand went up.
The Democrats want to micromanage the classroom from D.C. (somewhat more than the Republicans) but it just is not the best approach. Holistic real-world learning with motivated self-directed teachers and pupils is the direction to go.

Mary Dunton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm amazed that some of the comments regarding which candidate for president would support education voiced the opinion that Obama would be the best simply because he would get us out of Iraq and free up more funds for education. I thought teachers might think a bit deeper more critically than that. If we don't protect our country and our children from the results of terrorism, then we won't have a democratic, publicly funded, equal opportunity school system to fund.
My second comment is regarding NCLB. I have been a teacher for 30 years and consider NCLB to have been a positive influence on the educational community, giving the system a wake up call for accountability and equal opportunity for all students. Many teachers and administrators had become complacent in their expectations of the system and of themselves in serving the needs of all students. NCLB may have had many flaws such as not enough funding and too much bureaucracy, but it did make states take a closer look at their standards, accountability, assessment and student achievement for all types and levels of student.

David Spielberg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It seems like a trivial point, but with the unabashed media favoritism of Senator Obama, I wonder why his positions come first. It's not alphabetical, the usual way of listing people without preference.

Kathryn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You need to read between the lines people. Obama is making promises that are about things that are ALREADY taking place in this country, and the ones that aren't where is he going to get the money for all these programs? His promises are unrealistic and full of rhetoric. Where he could get money to support these programs are from the Union leaders who are getting rich by keeping the teaching PROFESSION at a level that keeps one from being recognized as a "PROFESSIONAL". It is the teaching profession that has put the "Professionals" in the workforce. Give yourselves a pat on the back! Also many of Obama's promises are already outlined in the NCLB act.

He is more interested in keeping poor families poorer by enabling them instead of giving back their pride in requiring more from them. Look what it did to the Native Americans!

KM's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'd like to know how many hours either one of the candiates has spent in a public school classroom in the last year. Without that point of service perspective, it's impossible for them know the type of environment and student demographics our teachers deal with on a daily basis. Therefore, any idea they have of what public schools need just echoes around the alleys of DC and fails to meet true needs of our modern day teachers and students.
I'd love to conduct a walking tour of my district with either candidate. Let them see a classroom of 22 third graders; 17 of which don't speek any English, one is autistic with a full time aide, another was born critically pre-mature, many have illiterate parents from their home country and are economically disadvantaged. In my state the the requirement is that all 22 must be reading on grade level by April. Once seen by the candidates, let them propose real answers to these needs...

Jeannette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ah, but you have been mislead. Did you read the article Obama's Education Blueprint? The work Obama did in Chicago was summarized..."But a final report on the Challenge concluded that the huge effort had brought little change." He also sends his children to a private school which costs $20,000 per child per year. My concern is, does he really understand public education and "powerful education" ? Every experienced educator knows that throwing money at education and programs that have been in place rarely equals success. Instead I really think we need to be looking at changing education to resemble 21st century learning and thinking. Like they say, if we keep doing the same thing we will continue to get the same results. As for education, I'm not sure which candidate will be better but I am in favor of vouchers so students have options. That would at least be something different and students have the opportunity to take some ownership of their own learning. Just do your research and some thinking before you vote.

 S. Lee Holt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The comments in response to this topic mean little if we don't know the verified position of the poster.

The comments are those I often hear from home schoolers and those pushing for more private schools and vouchers.

Please tell us in what city, state, and school the posters are located so that the information can be verified.

What's posted here really doesn't sound like everyday public education teachers.

Cal Joy's picture
Cal Joy
Former High School Art and Science Teacher in Queensland, Australia.

Staff comment:

S. Lee Holt,

Thank you for pointing out the potential problems with unverified
sources of opinions.

At this time, we do not have a way of verifying city, state, or the
school of posters. We ask Edutopia.org readers who post to increase
the credibility of their comments by including their name and city
along with their comment. You are right in
pointing out that those who do not offer more information risk

We are working on upgrades to our commenting feature and will include
your suggestion in our planning. We appreciate the feedback.

Cal Joy

ks's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am all for inclusion but I have the same question. What candidate, or for that matter, politician involved with NCLB, has been in a classroom for more than story time? We are losing quality teachers all over the country because teachers don't have time to teach. I still have not seen a curriculum that teaches students to budget, save, and spend within their means. We teach to the almighty tests. I feel for the children, although I believe education has made progress since my day, we have a long way to go. Our kids are soooooo smart, yet soooo many are being "left behind". We say down here in the south, No child left behind, No teacher standing.


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