Campaigns Debate Education Reform

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Publication date: 
24 October 2008

With less than two weeks before the election, this FYI and FYI #102 will offer the presidential candidates’ positions on education policy. On October 21, surrogates from the McCain and Obama campaigns met at Teachers College of Columbia University to debate their candidate’s plans for education reform.

Moderator Susan Fuhrman, president of Teacher’s College, introduced McCain campaign surrogate Lisa Graham Keegan, and Obama campaign surrogate Linda Darling-Hammond. In addition to serving as an education advisor to McCain, Keegan has held positions as Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, and as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives. Darling-Hammond is one of Obama’s education advisors, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University, and a board member of the National Academy of Education.

Although both surrogates addressed the importance of science and math education, comments on other components of the education system are also included as they will undoubtedly have a bearing on STEM subjects. Select quotes from the debate appear below. View the entire debate here.

MODERATOR SUSAN FUHRMAN, TEACHERS COLLEGE: “… how would Barack Obama differ from John McCain as an education president?”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND (OBAMA): “He has put enormous priority on education. He has developed a detailed plan a year ago. He has talked about it in 12 speeches and in all three debates, he has made the point that when we have to think about how to move forward in this country, one of the things we must do is invest in education because in this knowledge-based society and world, we don't have any choice but to insure that our kids are very well prepared for a time when most jobs now that pay well require college or beyond.”

“…other countries are pulling ahead of us mostly because we are running in place.”

“They have been investing in early childhood education and healthcare for all of their children. They have been making enormous investments in the quality of teachers and teaching in very systematic ways so all kids have access to teachers who are well prepared. They will develop curriculum and assessments that are pointed at 21st century skills. And they are sending a growing share of their kids to college.”

“So we have fallen to 35th in the world in math, to 15th in terms of college access. And we are at a graduation rate that has been stagnant for 40 years, and others are pulling ahead. And that's costing us in many, many ways in our economy, in our national security.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “… Senator McCain has aligned himself with the efforts of New York City Chancellor Joel Klein and the Reverend Al Sharpton and their Education Equality Project. What about that effort is compelling?”

[The Education Equality Project is an education reform group that advocates for greater teacher quality, pay, accountability, and school choice. Prominent politicians who have endorsed EEP include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Additional information can be found here]

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN (MCCAIN): “Senator McCain was part of a major push in 1994 with Arizona's Hispanic community who put forth the public charter school idea.”

“We were the first in the nation to have a charter school. The reason we have done it is that we put on the board that it was a majority, minority board because it was so difficult for minority leadership to have a say in what was going on in some of their schools so he has been there and has done the work.”

“The reason he finds Joel Klein and Sharpton's education policy so compelling is because it gets beyond Republican-Democrat politics.”

“So whatever the convergence is between Reverend Sharpton, Joel Klein, Newt Gingrich and Roy Romer there is a very narrow strip of agreement there that we have got to get together because all of those gentlemen have joined on this project. Senator Obama has not chosen to sign onto this project.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “… what changes would your candidate make in NCLB when it comes up for reauthorization next year?”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: “Senator Obama believes in the goals of the law, the idea of closing the achievement gap, insuring that all kids have access to well-qualified teachers, having methods of accountability that allow us to see how schools are doing and to have that data reported is very important. At the same time he acknowledges that there are many, many problems with the law and how it's been implemented.”

“He has made proposals both about the way in which the accountability metric works for [The] No Child Left Behind [Act], which is kind of a complex topic but we need to be moving towards looking at the continuous progress that students and schools make.”

“We need to be able to look at value added. That is how much growth do children make in the system? How are schools moving ahead in that way? We need to be able to look at measures that in addition to the kinds of standardized tests we currently have [that] evaluate 21st century skills.”

“If you look at other countries their assessments include relatively few multiple choice items and in some cases none. Their essay agencies, kids are doing science inquiries, research papers, technology products. Those are part of the examination system. They are part of the accountability system, in countries that are top ranked in the world: Finland, Sweden, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand.”

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN: “Senator McCain is a strong supporter of the aspiration of No Child Left Behind as well and where he is absolutely adamant is that state standards and the assessments for kids that are in place have got to stay in place.”

“He would change the way that we judge the quality of a school's work by changing it to a value- added formula for adequate yearly progress.”

“The problem with backing off of assessments and turning them into sort of portfolios or things that are more subjective is that we can't compare kids.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “What approaches to teacher preparation does your candidate value and how does he support them?”

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN: “Senator McCain has been clear he has been compelled by the research that tells us that countries that focus from highest level of universities, so the highest performing graduates, this is who they are pulling into the education system. So he would like to incentivize states to create plans for pulling the top 25% off that.”

“Those teachers go into preparation programs or as part of their instruction, if they are in that top tier of achievers in universities, they are also introduced to pedagogy and instruction while they are in school.”

“We pay for scholarships for kids who perform well in high school.”

“Senator McCain is saying we have to keep the door open. So we need a high standard and low barrier to entry, lots of ways to come in.”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: “[Obama] is in favor of recruiting academically able people.”

“He has offered service scholarships of $25,000 for people who will come into teaching, a free ride to get prepared to teach in high need locations and high need schools as well as insuring that they get access to all of the professional learning supports throughout their career.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “… should we be paying teachers for student performance gains…?”

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN: “[McCain] believes that school principals should be the people in charge of both recruiting their own staff but also evaluating their own staff and he would like to use federal money that goes to schools to go directly to schools and have principals be able to reward teachers primarily on the basis of student achievement.”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: “What Barack Obama has proposed is that we need to recognize and reward excellence in teaching as part of a career ladder as part of career development program that insures that beginning teachers get strong mentoring on the way into the profession from expert mentors who can give them that intensive help.”

“Those teachers need to demonstrate excellence in the classroom, and evidence of contributions to student learning and achievement.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “Let's stay on the issue of competition and talk briefly about charters and choice. Is there daylight between the candidates on charters?”

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN: “Senator McCain would do a couple of things, absolutely lift any caps on the ability for states. He can't enact that but he would support states doing away with caps.”

“Senator Obama has said only a non-profit can be a public charter school apparently. Senator McCain is saying only a school that is doing well by kids can be a public charter school.”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: “I think that there is some agreement that investment in public school charters is one way to improve the system, and Obama has proposed to expand both funding for public school charters and accountability.”

“He also has proposed a $200 million school innovation fund to support the kind of new schools in the public districts that are being created as right here in New York City that are redesigning schools, starting new school models that are more successful as well.”

“[Obama] is opposed to vouchers. He believes they drain money from the public schools.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “How are we going to [financially] support schools in general? How are we going to do the things your candidates propose?”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: “… as a percentage of GDP we are about 13th in the world in K12, and we are 25th in the amount of additional money we have spent over the last five years in terms of increases.”

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN: “There is just not one single credible study now that says what we really need to do in the United States is spend more money. It would be easy to say that's what it is. But the United States in real dollars has quadrupled our funding since 1968, real current dollars, and at the same time we have had achievement absolutely flat, slightly negative.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “Does your candidate support the development and implementation of national standards and assessments?”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: “…Senator Obama… says he wants to work with the nation's governors to raise the quality of our standards to make sure they represent 21st century skills that are the kind that we need to organize all of our schooling effort around and we need to then improve the quality of assessment so they are measuring those skills.”

“That's probably going to be done in a partnership between states and the federal government who are going to figure out together how to move this forward.”

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN: “Senator McCain has said he is absolutely in favor of states maintaining standards but he is in favor of the voluntary efforts that are going on.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “…how important that is to the future of American education and what kind of investments do we need to make in it?”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: “It's hugely important. Senator Obama has proposed $500 million in investments to create more connectivity and accessibility in low income schools.”

“Our schools for the most part still look in a lot of respects like schools did in 1950.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “How would your candidate like to see research supported by the federal government?”

LISA GRAHAM KEEGAN: “I would recommend a web site called Science Debate 2008 that talks both candidates about their science strategies and it was in this place that Senator McCain chose to talk about his focus on research, on primarily the science of science itself, education, issues of STEM, issues of basic research, and one of the things he says is we have got to get out of the process of doing sort of earmarked research projects and get to a place where we can absolutely have national area of focus which we must have.”

[Additional information on Science Debate 2008 can be found here]

“He is proposing putting somebody in the White House [e.g. as the president’s science advisor] whose brief is basic research in the United States and primarily in the area of science and technology, but also are we in those areas where we are innovating and he includes education K-12 in there.”

SUSAN FUHRMAN: “Do you have specific changes you propose to the institution of education sciences or is it pretty satisfactory as far as the Senator is concerned?”

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: “Well, the Obama campaign has talked about how to ratchet up substantially the both the amount and quality of educational research…”

“He looks for in doubling the research budget more research on learning, learning for special needs students and English language learners as well as learning in generally so we begin to tackle issues we have in enabling all kids to meet standards.”