from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Grading the Presidential Candidates on Education? 

Actually, I am not going to issue grades. I will offer more informal assessments. Given how tough a grader my students say I am, the candidates should probably thank me in advance.

I have long felt that education is an important issue for our future, and thus should be an important part of the campaign of any progressive candidate. In this diary I will examine what I found on the websites of the 8 who have declared their intention - this will therefore not include either Gore or Clark or for that matter Sharpton.

I will where possible provide direct links. I will use a mixture of quotes and summaries. I will offer some analysis, especially where the policy statement raises questions in my mind.

This diary is offered neither to support nor to criticize any candidate, except insofar as I may have issues with educational policy.

NOTE: the results below are as a result of an examination between 2 PM and 5 PM on Saturday March 24

Hillary Clinton's campaign website does NOT have an issues page! I looked further, including among the press releases, and found no statement on educational issues. There are links on the home page (once you are past the intro flash video) for 3 videos, on Our Troops, Health care, and Equal Pay. I suppose these are to serve in lieu of issues statements. I find that unsatisfactory.

Bill Richardson has an issues page which has statements on a number of key issues, but education is not among them.

Mike Gravel has a brief statement on education on the homepage:

Education should be our nation’s priority. We need to foster competition and rethink the system.
which serves as a hyperlink to a brief statement which is little more than generalities:
No Child Left Behind has left far too many children behind. We have a dire situation in America; 30% of our kids do not graduate from high school. Nearly a third of our children are condemned to a substandard economic existence. Education in America must be properly funded. However, money will not solve all the problems. Washington D.C. ranks first in dollars spent, yet ranks last in achievement. We need to approach education comprehensively. We must properly fund education while raising the overall standard of living in America and making education a vital part of a healthy, thriving community.

Joe Biden has an issues page which addresses (1) access to higher education, for which the key part of the statement is
Joe Biden believes that high school students should be engaged in planning and saving for college earlier in their careers so that students in their senior year are not overwhelmed by the process of applying to college and figuring out how to pay for it. He would expand national service programs to high school students so that they can earn money for college by participating in public service while they are in high school.
and (2) Preparing for College, in which he says
Over the past two decades we have made incredible strides in updating our education system. Fifteen years ago it would have been hard to imagine students linked through a high-tech video and high-speed internet network to other students and teachers across the country or teachers interacting with parents via email. New technology holds promise for our education system that we're only beginning to discover. But nothing is more essential than quality educators and engaged parents. Joe Biden believes that to fulfill the promise to leave no child behind we have to direct adequate resources to update schools, reduce class size and school size, reward quality educators, and improve teacher pay.
Again, there are no specifics to this plan at this point, although a number of key issue are at least mentioned.

Chris Dodd lists education second on his issues page (because it is alphabetical) where he leads with
Chris Dodd believes that there is no more important domestic policy priority for our country than providing an excellent education to every American child.
At the end there is a 'read more' statement that takes you to a more complete statement. Dodd points to a record of legislation on behalf of education. For example,
As the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development, Chris Dodd is a nationally recognized leader on children's issues. He has played a pivotal role in shaping legislation to improve the availability, affordability, and quality of Head Start, which has helped millions of children start school ready to learn. For his efforts, he was honored as the "Head Start Senator of the Decade" by the National Head Start Association.
Dodd also lists The Sandy Feldman Kindergarten Plus Act which provides resources for an extended Kindergarten year (Summer before through summer after) for students in lower SES schools; an attempt to redirect resources in NCLB for greater fairness; accessibility to college in several ways:
he has authored legislation to expand student loans and grants, and to make tuition tax deductible - so that every deserving child can gain a college degree. Similarly, he understands that more and more college students are "non-traditional" students: parents, full-time workers, and others. To help them earn a diploma, he has been a strong proponent of campus-based child care, distance learning, and other innovations.

Dodd puts an especial focus on educational equity and students with disabilities. It is worth quoting those sections completely:
Chris Dodd believes that in 21st century America the quality of a child's education should not depend on skin color, ethnicity, region, or income. On the basis of that belief he has authored innovative legislation with Congressman Chaka Fattah (D – PA) and others that would provide each American child with a basic level of excellence in terms of class size, rigorous curricula, high-quality teachers, and resources such as books and computers.

Chris Dodd also believes that our nation has a particular obligation to ensure that children with disabilities can receive the caliber of education that allows them to rise as far as their talent and imagination takes them. For that reason, he has worked for years to increase our nation's commitment to improving special education.
I found this page found an interesting mix of accomplishments and proposals. On an issues page such as this one won't necessarily find how to accomplish the goals such as those in the proposal with Fattah, but the page is detailed enough to encourage one interested in educational issues to want to read more.

John Edwards does not have a specific section on his main issues page for education. However, if you click on the link for Eliminating Poverty you arrive at page which places education within that context. Under "Strengthening Education" you will find mentions of (1) a proposal to for students at public colleges who work part time to get their tuition paid. This applies only to public colleges and only for the first year. Edwards is able to point at a specific program in NC and to some research supporting such an idea; (2)Create Second-Chance Schools for High School Dropouts, under which the page notes
Edwards believes that we should create second-chance schools, including some in evenings and at community colleges, to help former dropouts get back on track.
- this section also cites research; and (3)
Strengthen Public Schools: Edwards suggested expanding access to preschool programs such as Head Start and North Carolina's Smart Start, investing more in teacher pay and training to attract good teachers where we need them most, and strengthening high schools with smaller schools and a more challenging curriculum.

Dennis Kucinich lists 10 key issues, of which Guaranteed Quality Education, Pre-K Through College is listed 5th. The link takes you to a very detailed narrative written in the first person. There is too much to totally explore, but it is worth noting that Kucinich takes the time put his proposals into context, although he does not cite specific studies the way one finds on the Edwards page. For example, note the following discussion of Pre-K:
I am a strong supporter of the keystone federal educational program for poor children, Head Start. In the House Education Committee, I have offered an amendment that would vastly expand Head Start by allowing all centers to run for a full day and by increasing the number of children who qualify for the program, raising family eligibility thresholds to twice the federal poverty line. By tripling the Head Start budget, we could bring an additional 1.5 million children into the program.

In the 107th and 108th Congresses, I introduced the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Act, a bill to create a free, universal, and voluntary pre-kindergarten program for 3- to 5-year-old children across the county. Universal pre-kindergarten would revolutionize America's commitment to early childhood education and change the nature of child care provision for the better. The cost of this program is $60 billion per year, which I plan to pay for by cutting the bloated Pentagon budget by 15%.

Pre-kindergarten programs prepare children to meet the challenges of school. Studies show that young children who have access to a quality education benefit with higher academic achievements, increased graduation rates and decreased juvenile delinquency. Nationwide, there's a severe shortage of affordable, quality education programs. By providing universal pre-kindergarten, we are ensuring that all of our children are ready for school. The Universal Pre-Kindergarten Act will provide funding to states to establish universal pre-kindergarten programs that build on existing federal and state pre-kindergarten initiatives. The program is voluntary and will be available free of charge to all families who choose to participate. The legislation requires pre-kindergarten programs to meet quality standards of early education and provides resources for the professional development of teachers.
Kucinich also asserts his strong support of public schools
For grades K through 12, my priorities are based on the bedrock principle of a free, universal, and high quality public education for every child in America. I strongly oppose initiatives that seek to undermine that commitment and have established a strong anti-voucher voting record. I believe that we cannot improve education by draining funding from our public schools.

In Congress, I have proposed a constitutional amendment to codify the right of all citizens to equal, high-quality public education. To achieve that goal, I support a substantial reinvestment in the infrastructure of our nation's public schools. I co-sponsored the Better Classroom Act and the Expand and Build America's Schools Act, two bills to help communities make needed school repairs and expansions. I have supported additional funding for teacher training.
He also has a similar detailed statement on post-secondary education.

I do want to offer the final two paragraphs on this page on education, because they touch on issues I think critical:
The current Administration wants to box our young people in with standardized tests and a limited focus on math and science. These days, American students are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in American history and unparalleled anywhere in the world. Education must emphasize creative and critical thinking, not just test taking.

I believe we can take our children and society in a new direction by challenging this notion that education should be so limited. We ought to be encouraging art, music, and creative writing in our schools. In doing so, we recognize and fuel the wide range of talents our children possess. Also See: Vouchers Floor Statements, 109th Congress: Reporting of School Bus RR Crossings Funded H.R. 609 Will Not Help Students Don't Let the War on Drugs Become a War on Children Students Pay for Tax Cuts for the Rich

Finally, Barack Obama has an issues overview page on which we find
Improving Our Schools
We are failing too many of our children in public schools. Right now, six million middle and high school students read at levels significantly below their grade level. Unfortunately, the debate in Washington has been narrowed: either we need to pour more money into the system, or we need to reform it with more tests and standards. Senator Obama has worked on bills that cut through this false choice and recognize that good schools will require both structural reform and resources.
This is hyperlinked to a more extensive statement on which we find statements on 3 items, Innovating Teacher Pay:
School districts across America face systemic barriers to attracting and putting the best teachers in schools where they are needed the most. Although the federal role in education is limited, one way the federal government can make the most of its scarce resources is by fostering innovation -- identifying the best programs and practices, and helping expand them around the country. Senator Obama introduced the Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act to award grants to school districts that try new methods to improve student achievement and reward effective teachers. Under this initiative, 20 districts across the country would get grants to develop innovative plans in consultation with their teacher unions. High-performing teachers would be eligible for pay increases of 10 to 20 percent of their base salary. These innovation districts would be required to implement systemic reforms and show convincing results.

Expanding Summer Learning Opportunities:
Differences in learning opportunities during the summer contribute to the achievement gaps that separate struggling poor and minority students from their middle-class peers. Senator Obama worked with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) to introduce the Summer Term Education Programs for Upward Progress (STEP UP) Act to address the achievement gaps among grade-school children. STEP UP establishes a grant program to support summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children through local schools or community organizations.

and Increasing Federal College Loans:
Across the country, 5.3 million students use Pell Grants to finance their college educations. Not long ago, financial aid was primarily in the form of grants. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and graduates now have more and more difficulty keeping up with loan payments. The first bill Senator Obama introduced in the U.S. Senate was the HOPE Act, which would help make college more affordable for many Americans. The bill would increase the maximum Pell Grant from the current limit of $4,050 to a new maximum of $5,100.

SOME REACTION AND SUMMARY FROM teacherken - I tried to be balanced in what I offered above, to fairly represent what I found. Given the unequal weight placed on various aspects of education by the various candidates, it is not easy to make exact comparisons. Clearly those with legislative records on education, especially Dodd and Kucinich, are well within their rights to emphasize what they have already done.

I find it interesting when education is placed in a broader context. I find that Edwards does that very well, although I wish I saw more detail about some of the K-12 issues that concern me. I do like that he provides informal citations (although there is insufficient detail to walk the trail) for some of his assertions, as I also like the explanations, even if a bit verbose, one finds on the website of Kucinich.

I was surprised that a Governor such as Richardson offers no detail on education. It should be a major priority for any Governor, especially given the many recent conflicts I have noted between Federal mandates and the US Department of Education and quite a few states (for example Utah, Connecticut, Nebraska) and localities (eg: Fairfax County Virginia) in recent months. And I was totally shocked at the lack of any issues page on the Clinton website. In both of these cases (Clinton and Richardson) I did extensive poking around to assure myself that I was not drawing an incorrect conclusion. In Richardson's case, I cannot help but wonder if the reason he is steering away from talking about education is because the quality of the schools in New Mexico is not something about which one would be inclinded to brag, but I don't know.

I had not intended to endorse or become active in a presidential campaign before we finished the current (2007) Virginia General Assembly cycle. I had endorsed Tom Vilsack because of his willingness to come out against reuathorization of NCLB. Now that he has withdrawn, I have no inclination to endorse any of the 8 currently in the contest. Certainly on most issues, including education, all are likely to be far superior to any of the probably standard bearers for the Republicans. Were I looking ONLY at education (and I will not be) I would be most drawn to Kucinich and Dodd. But there is still time for the others to flesh out their own educational policies.

Now that I have overburdened you with all this detail, what do YOU think? What questions might you want to ask each of the candidates about education?

I look forward to your responses.

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