The pending reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act will provide the next president an opportunity to substantially reshape federal education policy. To provide a preview of what that change may look like, the New America Foundation invited ducation advisers to the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates to speak about their candidates’ education policy agendas. Lisa Graham Keegan is a former Arizona superintendent of education who advises Sen. John McCain. John Schnur is former education adviser to President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and an unofficial adviser to Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign. Richard Lee Covin, director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University, moderated the discussion. An MP3 audio recording can be downloaded below, while video is available at right.
The discussion focused on how federal policies could improve educational quality, and teacher quality in particular. Today’s schools of education, said John Schnur, are doing “a very inadequate job” of preparing tomorrow’s educators. He expressed his support for professional development programs that pair new teachers with experienced educators and policies to provide more common planning time for teachers. Keegan called for policies need to recruit top graduates of high schools and universities to teaching jobs. She added that schools should link teacher quality assessments to student performance and praised schools that implement regular assessments of student achievement, allowing for early interventions for struggling students.
This forum also featured the first in-depth discussion of early education issues by education advisers from both campaigns. Keegan indicated that Sen. McCain will have more to say about early education in the future, though she stressed the importance of early education in developing children’s linguistic capabilities and the imperative for the diverse array of early childhood education providers to work together. Schnur highlighted Sen. Obama’s zero to five initiatives, including pre-k for three- and four-year olds, increased funding for Head Start, and grants to help states and local agencies assess and improve their early childhood education systems. Schnur said it is important to help states continue their efforts to develop quality early education programs.
When asked about the Reading First program, a signature Bush administration initiative that Congress is seeking to eliminate funding for, Keegan said an “unfortunate circumstance” -- namely a poor assessment of the program -- that led to decisions by members of Congress not to fund the program next year. Schnur added that the program’s history underscores the need for high standards and accountability of reading initiatives, so that policymakers know what really works and what does not.
On higher education, Schnur spoke about Sen. Obama’s plan for an American Opportunity Tax Credit to help students pay for college if they agree to complete 100 hours of community service. Keegan admitted that her candidate has yet to produce a higher education platform, but spoke of the need to enhance the transition between the K-12 system and higher education.
Finally, an audience member asked the advisers to predict what their candidate’s biggest education achievement would be after four years in office. Schnur acknowledged that it is difficult to push through a major reform in that amount of time, but said he hopes the foundations of dramatic change would be in place. Keegan said she would hope to see a new culture in schools and among the teaching corps in particular, so that the brightest and most innovative young people in the country want to enter the teaching profession. Schnur added that he hopes that policymakers, educators and the public will have reached a solid consensus and will to work together on improving education in the United States. “We may have our disagreements on things, but we are all trying to figure out the best ways of accomplishing the same goals,” he said.
-Christina Satkowski, Research Associate for the Education Policy Program
This work was supported by the Strategic Knowledge Fund, co-funded by the Foundation for Child Development and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and by the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation.
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