The global financial crisis has squeezed other important issues out of the campaign spotlight. With 4 days to go until the election, we’re taking a look at Senator Obama and Senator McCain’s education platforms…and what they’d mean for Connecticut students and families.
John McCain and Barack Obama agree on a few basics. They both say public schools need to improve, and that good teachers are the single most important part of a quality education. But the candidates split when it comes to the amount of funding Washington should pay to improve teaching and learning. John McCain says he’d freeze education spending and have schools do a better job with the federal dollars they already get. Barack Obama wants to invest new dollars , 18 billion, into the educational system - 10 billion of which would be targeted to one of his top priorities, early childhood education.
"Obama’s catching the new wave of whats happening in my field" Yale University Professor Emeritus Edward Zigler is one of the original creators of America’s Head Start program. He’s also an advisor to Senator Obama. "Obama is a strong Head Start supporter. McCain is clearly not. In addition to that, we’ve done Head Start..Its time for this country to move on to a universal preschool education and that’s where Senator Obama is today"
Obama says the way to close the achievement gap is to expand access to quality preschools and child care, so disadvantaged youngsters entering kindergarten are not already left behind. But Lisa Graham Keegan, education advisor to John McCain says most 4-year olds have access to preschool. During an online debate earlier this month she said early childhood programs need to be held more accountable. "Senator McCain is saying look we have got to talk about the quality of these programs. We do have to have an assessment of the quality of the programs..We can’t be flinching away from quality assessments of preschool."
McCain believes the best way to improve education across the board is by increasing competition. He’d like federal money to follow children to whatever schools their parents choose....public or private. McCain would expand a Congressionally funded voucher program in Washington, DC. - an idea that Lewis Andrews, of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy supports " ..enabling parents to take the money that goes for the education of their child and spend it at any school of their choice, public or private..and that agenda sounds better to me."
But Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the CT Association of Public School Superintendents questions whether McCain’s emphasis on competition and choice will improve public education. "We’ve had choice in American public education for quite some time now. For the most part, even when they are given a choice, parents choose to send their child to the nearest school. They have a right in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, New London and all the other urban centers..they have a right to have the schools that are in their neighborhoods be quality schools".
And Cirasuolo says if federal dollars go to private and parochial schools, those institutions should operate under the same mandates that public schools do. He describes Obama’s platform as more comprehensive and thoughtful.
Obama opposes vouchers for private schools but does support choice within the public system. Obama would expand federal funding for charter schools.
"That’s something that isn’t always a popular position in the Democratic party, but he’s making it mainstream" Mark Porter McGee is communications director at the CT Coalition for Achievement Now. "I think he’s seen that charter schools are one way that we can get into some districts that maybe have had low performance for a long time and bring some new innovations in there. And I think we’ve seen that in CT as well. We have one of the highest performing networks of charter schools in the country. And I think under an Obama administration we’re likely to see the kind of federal investment in those schools that we haven’t seen to date."
Both candidates say they support the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but agree that the law is flawed and needs repair. They’ve steered clear of details. No Child Left Behind is expected to be reauthorized under the next administration, no matter who the president is.