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On education, McCain & Obama may not be far apart

If you've read Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? then you're not surprised to learn that McCain and Obama are in the same corporate camp regarding education. Careful readers of this site know that in 2005 Obama published a position paper in Mother Jones "prepared by" the Center for American Progress. They really have a despicable record on education reform. Just search on this site for more pronouncements by them. You might start with their Study Guide For Fixing American Schools.

Thank you to Educator Roundtable for posting this USA Today blog.

By: Mark Memmott and Jill Lawrence

Two top education advisers to Republican presidential contender John McCain and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, took the stage together today in Washington at an event sponsored by the Association of Educational Publishers.

USA TODAY's Greg Toppo was there and says there wasn't a lot of disagreement between the two on the more important educational issues of the day.

Here is Greg's report:

Jeanne Century, director of Science Education, Research and Evaluation at the University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE), is an adviser to Obama. Lisa Graham Keegan, the former superintendent of public instruction in Arizona and a two-term member of the Arizona House of Representatives, has McCain's ear on educational issues.

To anyone casually observing the two in an effort to divine differences between the candidates, the disagreements seemed small.

� Both Obama and McCain believe in rigorous standards and rich curricula to help students compete in a global economy. Century even suggested that American kids should be "trilingual," not just bilingual, to compete with the rest of the world.

� Both candidates support publicly funded, but privately run, charter schools.

� For now at least, both oppose using taxpayer dollars for large-scale voucher programs. (In a later session with reporters, though, Keegan pointed out that McCain actually supported the push in 2003 for a small-scale voucher that now operates in Washington, D.C., public schools. She added that if a state asked McCain to support a voucher program, "he might be supportive." But she said he doesn't currently support changing the provisions of No Child Left Behind to allow for private school vouchers. Currently, students in under-performing schools can get taxpayer dollars for free tutoring or transfer to a better-performing public school.)

� Speaking of No Child Left Behind, both candidates would tweak it in ways that, for the most part, only education wonks can appreciate. They'd both fund it differently. Keegan says McCain would figure out more efficient, focused ways to spend what she says is NCLB's "unprecedented" increase in funding to schools. Century says Obama believes NCLB "was insufficiently funded and poorly implemented."

They both bemoan the law's inability to ensure that low-income children get high-quality teachers and they'd both push for so-called "value added" provisions that would give schools credit for test score gains that children make each year, even if all children don't meet a pre-set proficiency goal in reading or math.

While Century told the crowd that Obama's big education ideas have been public (on his website, of course) since November, Keegan was a bit coy on just how McCain would change NCLB, which is up for renewal this year. "He wouldn't want to continue it as is -- and he'd like to talk about it in a couple of weeks," she said.

Among the few stark differences: McCain unapologetically supports tying teacher pay to improvements in children's standardized test scores. Obama, said Century, "is against traditional merit pay that ties individual pay to student outcomes, but is open to other arrangements." Those include rewarding teachers for "deep content knowledge," mentoring, extra certification and "classroom excellence -- however you choose to define that." She said schools and teachers need to work together to figure that out.

Keegan drew a sharp contrast, saying test scores are a fine indicator of how good a teacher is. "If teachers are not there to increase achievement, I'm not sure what they're there for." Spending time negotiating other ways that such a scheme would work ignores what Keegan says is good research on the topic. "We can't ignore that research."

Another difference: While Keegan didn't say much about early childhood education, Century emphasized several times that Obama believes that "making sure children have a healthy beginning of life" saves taxpayers money on interventions in the long run.

The session was co-sponsored by Ed in '08, a non-profit, non-partisan group that's trying to get education mentioned more often in the 2008 election, and both women bemoaned the lack of a substantial education debate so far. "Sen. Obama is speaking about education," said Century. "Why people aren't hearing it, why it's not getting picked up, I don't know."

In the end, perhaps the biggest difference was style -- in their closing statements, Century stuck to Obama's theme of change and hope: "We can't build ourselves an education system for the future using strategies that we've had in the past," she said. "We know a great deal about what works and we need to have the courage and the will to take responsibility to every single child in this country to realize the dream of American public education."

Upon hearing that, Keegan chose to spotlight McCain's feisty nature and his independence: "Sen. McCain has proven himself in his career to be somebody who does not care if you are angry with him. He does not care if you don't agree with him, especially in places where you'd expect him to. ... He is going to be somebody who will absolutely confront the barriers in education that keep us from saying one thing but being unwilling to actually act on it."

— Mark Memmott and Jill Lawrence and Greg Toppo
USA Today blog





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