John McCain on Education at NAACP Conference
Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain used his speech today at the NAACP annual convention to flesh out an education policy agenda that has, to this point, been pretty amorphous. Early Ed Watch is disappointed, but not particularly surprised, to see no mention of early childhood education in McCain's speech. But the McCain campaign could easily integrate early education proposals into some of the ideas McCain laid out today. For example, McCain supports alternative certification--a good idea. Why not include investment in developing research-based alternate routes to early childhood educator certification? That would help states meet the growing demand for skilled pre-k teachers, and it would also provide more cost-effective ways to help people that currently lack a bachelor's degree to acquire the skills and knowledge to be effective pre-k teachers. And it would advance the cause of alternative certification. Similarly, McCain's speech expressed support for charter schools--why not propose new policies to increase the number of charter schools delivering high-quality early education programs?
The agenda McCain laid out today emphasizes school choice, alternative teacher certification, teacher performance pay, bonuses for teachers who work in high-need schools, and greater school-level decision making authority. McCain's agenda includes some good ideas, but is lacking in details on how his policies will accomplish his goals. For example, the school choice proposals McCain unveiled today to expand school choice--expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Voucher program and investing $750 million in virtual schooling--won't come near fulfilling his promise of "school choice for all who want it." McCain sings the praises of charter schools in his speech--so where are the agressive proposals to expand the number of charter schools, or to eliminate the substantial barriers charters face in many states?
McCain offers more details on how he'll address teacher quality issues, though: He'd redirect 65 percent of the $2.9 billion currently allocated to the TItle II Teacher Quality State Grants program for new strategies to recruit high-performing teachers and reward teachers who work in high-poverty schools or raise student achievement. Five percent of the funds would go to recruit recent college grads who were in the top 25 percent of their class or who participated in high-quality alternative certification programs such as Teach for America or who obtain certification from the America Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence. Sixty percent would be devoted to to providing performance bonuses and bonuses for effective teachers who agree to work in high-need, low-performing schools. In contrast to Barack Obama, who's proposed spending an additional $18 billion annually on his education agenda, McCain proposes no new education spending, but would instead redirect existing funds to cover the costs of his programs. McCain does deserve some points for redirecting funds from programs that are currently ineffective or poorly targeted to national priorities for education (such as state grants for education technology), but his unwillingness to provide additional funding definitely limits his ability to make aggressive proposals.
Perhaps most strikingly, the education section of McCain's speech did not include a single mention of NCLB, which will almost certainly be the most pressing issue on the next president's education agenda. That's particularly surprising since McCain was speaking to the NAACP and polling data suggests that NCLB is popular among African American parents. McCain's plan released today does mention NCLB, but is extremely vague about whether McCain would maintain the current administration's committment to the law's existing accountability model, or accept proposals to water accountability down. When it comes to NCLB, we wish McCain had offered a bit more of his fabled straight talk.
We're hoping the Mccain will provide more details about his education agenda--particularly on NCLB--as the campaign progresses. As he does so, we strongly encourage McCain and his staff to consider integrating early education into some of their proposals.
Here are McCain's education remarks in full:
Nowhere are the limitations of conventional thinking any more apparent than in education policy. Education reform has long been a priority of the NAACP, and for good reason. For all the best efforts of teachers and administrators, the worst problems of our public school system are often found in black communities. Black and Latino students are among the most likely to drop out of high school. African Americans are also among the least likely to go on to college.
After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and seeing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms. That isn't just my opinion; it is the conviction of parents in poor neighborhoods across this nation who want better lives for their children. In Washington, D.C., the Opportunity Scholarship program serves more than 1,900 boys and girls from families with an average income of 23,000 dollars a year. And more than 7,000 more families have applied for that program. What they all have in common is the desire to get their kids into a better school.
Democrats in Congress, including my opponent, oppose the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last weekend, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, "tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice." All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?
Over the years, Americans have heard a lot of "tired rhetoric" about education. We've heard it in the endless excuses of people who seem more concerned about their own position than about our children. We've heard it from politicians who accept the status quo rather than stand up for real change in our public schools. Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity. When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.
We should also offer more choices to those who wish to become teachers. Many thousands of highly qualified men and women have great knowledge, wisdom, and experience to offer public school students. But a monopoly on teacher certification prevents them from getting that chance. You can be a Nobel Laureate and not qualify to teach in most public schools today. They don't have all the proper credits in educational "theory" or "methodology" -- all they have is learning and the desire and ability to share it. If we're putting the interests of students first, then those qualifications should be enough.
If I am elected president, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of Opportunity Scholarships, and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform. I will target funding to recruit teachers who graduate in the top 25 percent of their class, or who participate in an alternative teacher recruitment program such as Teach for America, the American Board for Teacher Excellence, and the New Teacher Project.
We will pay bonuses to teachers who take on the challenge of working in our most troubled schools -- because we need their fine minds and good hearts to help turn those schools around. We will award bonuses as well to our highest-achieving teachers. And no longer will we measure teacher achievement by conformity to process. We will measure it by the success of their students.
Moreover, the funds for these bonuses will not be controlled by faraway officials -- in Washington, in a state capital, or even in a district office. Under my reforms, we will entrust both the funds and the responsibilities where they belong in the office of the school principal. One reason that charter schools are so successful, and so sought-after by parents, is that principals have spending discretion. And I intend to give that same discretion to public school principals. No longer will money be spent in service to rigid and often meaningless formulas. Relying on the good judgment and first-hand knowledge of school principals, education money will be spent in service to public school students.
We can also help more children and young adults to study outside of school by expanding support for virtual learning. So I propose to direct 500 million dollars in current federal funds to build new virtual schools, and to support the development of online courses for students. Through competitive grants, we will allocate another 250 million dollars to support state programs expanding online education opportunities, including the creation of new public virtual charter schools. States can use these funds to build virtual math and science academies to help expand the availability of Advanced Placement math, science, and computer science courses, online tutoring, and foreign language courses.
Under my reforms, moreover, parents will exercise freedom of choice in obtaining extra help for children who are falling behind. As it is, federal aid to parents for tutoring for their children has to go through another bureaucracy. They can't purchase the tutoring directly, without having to deal with the same education establishment that failed their children in the first place. These needless restrictions will be removed, under my reforms. If a student needs extra help, parents will be able to sign them up to get it, with direct public support.