Thursday, July 24, 2008

Education 2008: Where the Presidential Candidates Stand

There are 76.6 million children under the age of 17 currently enrolled in school in the United States. For those children and their parents, education is a major concern. But the quality of education in the country affects all of us indirectly. An educated populace translates to a more robust workforce, correlates to a slower population growth rate, ensures a more concerned and decent society, and influences the number of participants in the democratic process.

Check out NEA's Side by Side Comparison of the Candidates on Major Issues

In 2008, education reform ranks as the third most important issue for voters, behind only the war in Iraq and the economy. As the leaders of our profession it is vital that we know where the candidates stand on the issues and how that will impact our work, the learning of our students and the health of our schools.

Our family members, community members, parents, congregations, memberships all depend on us to share the facts on this important issue. Please take a look at where the political parties and candidates stand on the most important issue in Election 2008, education. All of the other issues are negatively or positively impacted by our society's ability to educate its young people, workers and citizens.

US Democratic Party Platform 2008 in PDF

US Republican Party Platform 2008 in PDF

2008 Iowa Democratic Party Platform in PDF

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)

While his Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, campaigned to end NCLB completely, Senator Barack Obama has promised to reform the act, saying that it has been poorly funded and implemented by the Department of Education. Another major complaint from the Democrats is that NCLB has created false measures of achievement, forcing teachers to direct their lessons not to the educational material but to the standardized tests by which their students will be measured. Obama also plans to restructure the funding formulas so that schools that need improvement receive more money to do so, rather than punishing them by taking away funds.

The cornerstone of Obama’s education platform is a plan entitled “Zero to Five,” which addresses the period from birth to pre-kindergarten. Under this plan, he would create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote early learning programs at the state level and help the states move toward voluntary, universal pre-school.

He would also quadruple funding for Early Head Start - a federally funded community-based health education program for low-income families with infants and toddlers and pregnant women.

Obama has emphasized the importance of improving teacher preparation and performance. He would create Teacher Service Scholarships to pay for undergraduate or graduate teacher education in exchange for teaching in a high-need field or location for at least four years. He would also require all schools of education to be accredited and would create a voluntary national performance assessment of new educators.

Making post-secondary education more affordable is another pledge Obama has made. He proposes the American Opportunity Tax Credit that would make community college tuition free and cover two-thirds of the cost of tuition at the average public college or university for most students. However, he has not released details on how he intends to fund such an expensive program.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

In his 2008 candidacy, Republican Senator John McCain has officially supported standards, such as those required by No Child Left Behind, to measure public schools and use performance against these standards to determine how much funding schools receive. He voted for NCLB in 2001 and continues to support it, but has stated that some changes need to be made to the act, such as allowing parents to choose which school their child will attend through publicly funded vouchers.

Vouchers are the foundation of his education platform and McCain has said that all federal funding must be predicated on parents having the ability to enroll their children in better schools, rather than requiring them to stay in failing schools. His official campaign website says that he “will fight for the ability of all students to have access to all schools of demonstrated excellence, including their own homes.”

Like his opponent, McCain has focused on improving the quality of teachers across the nation, but his focus is on free market competition - schools should compete to be the most innovative and student-centered to attract and reward the best teachers.

McCain has said little about post-secondary education so far in his campaign. During an event in New Hampshire in December, he said he supports tax deductions for college tuitions and that “we’ve got to do everything we can to make education affordable for all Americans.”

Later, he corrected his statement, stating that he misunderstood the question and does not support tax deductions for tuition. He has said he backs greater federal funding of Pell grants and government low-interest student loans, though he missed the vote on a bill that cuts the interest rate on loans and increases Pell grants.