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The Candidates' Plans for Education


Education World presents presidential candidate positions on No Child Left Behind, lowering the high school drop-out rate, ensuring teacher quality and links to education platforms. Included: Candidates' views on pressing education issues.

Education World posed questions about their education priorities to both presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, and Republican John McCain, senator from Arizona. Only Obama's campaign responded, despite repeated requests to the McCain campaign for the senator to participate.

Here are the responses from the Obama campaign to Education World's questions about pressing issues in education.

Scott DeTore
Sen. Barack Obama
Photo courtesy of Obama for America

Education World: Efforts to revise and reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 have stalled in Congress. What plans does Sen. Obama have for the future of NCLB?

Obama Campaign: Barack Obama favors overhauling NCLB so that problems associated with the law are remedied. He has said repeatedly that the goals of NCLB are the right ones; the problem has been structural flaws in the law's design, funding inadequacy, and ineffective implementation. Obama supports NCLB's emphasis on improving learning for all students, closing the achievement gap, and getting highly qualified teachers into every classroom. At the same time, NCLB needs major revisions to make sure it focuses on the most important kinds of learning, accountability for improvement, and creates genuine educational opportunity for all our children.

Obama intends to reform NCLB so that it focuses on improving schools, rather than punishing them. He will do this by improving the law's accountability measures so that they better track continual student progress and by working with the states to develop higher quality and broader assessments. His focus is not rolling back the law's sanctions, but rather ensuring that we have better data before sanctions are invoked. That's why it's important to fix how we are measuring Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) -- so that schools are not unfairly punished by measurements that do not take account, for instance, where a particular student started at the beginning of the year and whether the school moved students closer to proficiency targets.

John McCain 2008 - www.JohnMcCain.com.

Sen. McCain's Education Platform

Read McCain's education platform at Excellence, Choice, and Competition in American Education.
Similarly, Obama believes that if we improve the assessments that states use so that they are testing for a broader range of skills and evidence of deeper learning, NCLB could lead to a more rigorous form of instruction in the classroom -- instead of just "teaching to the test." Both of these improvements could lead to a NCLB that is closer to the original goals of the law: improving schools and raising student achievement for all kids.

EW: As schools struggle to recruit and retain effective teachers -- particularly schools in low-income areas -- what would an Obama administration do to help districts hire and retain high-quality teachers?

Obama Campaign: From the moment children step into a classroom, the single most important factor in determining their achievement is their teacher. Obama and [vice presidential candidate] Joe Biden value teachers and the central role that they play in education. To ensure competent, effective teachers in schools that are organized for success, Obama's K-12 plan will expand service scholarships to underwrite high-quality preparation for teachers who commit to working in underserved districts, support ongoing improvements in teacher education, provide mentoring for beginning teachers, create incentives for shared planning and learning time for teachers, and support career pathways in participating districts that provide ongoing professional development and reward accomplished teachers for their expertise. The Obama-Biden Career Ladder initiative will help eliminate teacher shortages in hard-to-staff areas and subjects, improve teacher retention rates, strengthen teacher preparation programs, improve professional development, and better utilize and reward accomplished teachers.

EW: The U.S. now has one of the world's highest high-school drop-out rates -- 30 percent. What measures would Obama recommend to keep more students in high school and encourage them to further their education beyond 12th grade?

Obama Campaign: Currently, only 70 percent of U.S. high school students graduate with diplomas. African American and Latino students are significantly less likely to graduate than white students. Obama and Biden plan to address this problem by helping at-risk students before they get to high school, because the warning signs often occur well before high school. Obama has proposed a "Success in the Middle Act," which would provide federal support to improve the education of middle school students in low-performing schools by requiring states to develop detailed plans to improve student achievement, develop and utilize early identification data systems to identify those students most at-risk of dropping out, and invest in proven strategies that reduce the number of drop outs.

As part of his education plan, Obama wants to establish a competitive grant process open to existing or proposed public/private partnerships or entities that are pursuing evidence-based models that have been proven to reduce dropouts -- such as Diploma Plus or Teacher Advisor programs.

EW: What are Sen. Obama's other education priorities?

Obama Campaign: The Obama-Biden education plan includes

  • Providing children with access to quality early childhood education from birth to age 5 by providing Early Learning Challenge Grants for states to implement and expand universal pre-K programs, expanding Head Start, and quadrupling Early Head Start enrollment.
  • Ensuring quality teachers in every classroom by recruiting, training, retaining, and rewarding teachers and school leaders; creating career ladders and increasing pay for effective teachers who serve as mentors, teach in high-need subjects, such as math and science, and who excel in the classroom; and by identifying ineffective and struggling teachers, providing them with individual help and support, and removing them from the classroom in a quick and fair way if they still underperform.
  • Creating meaningful public school choice options for parents by expanding successful charter and other new schools, while improving or closing down those that fail.
  • Setting high expectations for students by establishing new programs to support efforts to increase the number of students taking AP, IB, and college-level courses by 50 percent.
  • Demanding more responsibility from parents and Washington. Responsibility starts at home and the Obama administration plans to help parents be more involved and active in their children's education. Obama plans to call for states and districts to provide parents with more meaningful parent report cards to inform parents how their children are performing and whether they are on track for college and careers. The Obama-Biden plan also advocates making federal education programs more performance-based and issuing an annual report on the state of U.S. schools.

This e-interview with the Barack Obama campaign staff is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Published 10/22/2008