Friday, September 19, 2008

If Elected… McCAIN CALLS FOR LIMITED U.S. ROLE IN EDUCATION: In comparison to Senator Barack Obama’s education plan, Senator John McCain’s is downright terse.

By SAM DILLON | New York Times

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If Elected ... Education

This series examines how the presidential candidates would handle the issues they would confront as president.

NOTE: None of Senator McCain’s children attended public schools.


September 10, 2008 -- Among his short list of initiatives, Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, includes bonus pay for teachers who raise student achievement or who take jobs in hard-to-staff schools, an expansion of after-school tutoring, and new federal support for online schools and for the voucher program in Washington, D.C.

The brevity of Mr. McCain’s plan reflects his view that the federal government should play a limited role in public education, and his commitment to holding the line on education spending, said Lisa Graham Keegan, a McCain adviser and former Arizona education commissioner.

“Education is obviously not the issue Senator McCain spends the most time on,” Ms. Keegan said, adding that his plan’s limited scope should not be interpreted as a lack of commitment to education and school reform. “He’s been a quiet and consistent supporter of parents and educators who he thinks are making a difference.”

Mr. McCain would make it easier for students in failing schools to get taxpayer-financed after-school tutoring by private companies. Under President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, students at schools that have repeatedly missed testing goals are eligible, but few parents nationwide have taken advantage of those services. That is because, in Mr. McCain’s view, local school districts often set up a cumbersome process for certifying the tutors and do a poor job of getting the word out to parents.

Under Mr. McCain’s plan, the federal government would certify tutoring companies, letting them market directly to parents.

Both the McCain and Obama plans acknowledge that the No Child Left Behind law has helped the nation focus on closing the achievement gap between minorities and whites, but they also promise changes to the law without offering many specifics. And both are silent on the law’s deadline requiring that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Both plans also propose performance pay initiatives. Mr. McCain would reallocate 60 percent of the $3 billion in current federal spending on teacher quality programs to finance direct payments to “high-performing teachers” who take jobs in high-needs schools and to those who improve achievement.

Mr. Obama’s plan would offer federal financing to districts that negotiate performance pay programs with teachers unions. It would allow bonuses for veteran teachers who help novice colleagues as well as those who teach in hard-to-staff schools or demonstrate high levels of performance.

Both national teachers unions have endorsed Mr. Obama, and last month, Mr. McCain painted him as a pawn, saying he “continues to defer to the teachers unions instead of committing to real reform.” But there is little in Mr. Obama’s record to suggest such deference. Many union members bitterly oppose all performance pay schemes, even those that, as in Mr. Obama’s plan, are negotiated with teachers.

In July 2007, when Mr. Obama addressed an annual convention of the National Education Association, some union members booed him. He repeated his proposal at this year’s convention in July, and was booed anew.

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