[Editor's note: Linda Darling-Hammond, formerly a public high school teacher, is currently a professor of education at Stanford University and an advisor to the Obama campaign.]
I was shocked recently to read an editorial pronouncing Barack Obama and John McCain nearly alike in their views on education — a statement that could hardly be further from the truth. I realize it might be possible to believe this if your major source of information is television news, which obsesses over personalities and pigs in lipstick rather than covering serious issues. Ever wonder what 24-hour news shows could do with all that time if they actually spent it evaluating what the candidates plan to do about the issues that affect our lives? But that’s a topic for another blog.
Although we hear little about education from the press, Obama announced a detailed plan a year ago and talks about education regularly. He has pledged over $30 billion annually in new investments in education — from early childhood to support for college tuition — because he believes education is the key to our nation’s future and to each child’s success. Not only is this commitment 30 times greater than anything John McCain has discussed, it is focused on supporting public schools and teachers, rather than punishing them. And, it is based on what we know makes a difference for success.
In a nutshell, educators should support Obama because:
Obama will provide schools and teachers the tools they need to educate all students.
He understands that No Child Left Behind left the money behind, while setting unrealistic goals and providing little support to reach them. In addition to boosting funding, he has promised to overhaul the accountability and assessment provisions of the law so that students are not “spending the year bubbling in answers on standardized tests” but are instead are challenged to think critically, conduct research, engage in scientific investigations, read and write for genuine purposes, and master the skills needed in the 21st century. He wants to be sure that schools are able to teach a full, rich curriculum that includes science, technology, history, the arts and music, as well as reading and math.
He will use a continuous progress approach to evaluating students and schools — one that assesses special education students and English language learners more appropriately and funds stronger services and more productive school improvement efforts. By contrast, McCain is content with No Child Left Behind as it is; he has no plans to increase funding for the law, which he voted against, along with his votes against hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes and funding teacher training.
Obama plans a major technology initiative to put computers, connectivity, and courseware within the reach of every student and teacher, incentives for redesigning middle and high schools, and expansion of after-school and summer enrichment programs, especially for students at risk of dropping out. Obama understands that educators deserve support for their own learning. His plans invest in high-quality preparation for both teachers and principals, service scholarships to underwrite preparation for those who will become teachers, mentoring for all beginning teachers, and useful professional development — not the drive-by workshops or “spray and pray” approaches that most teachers have learned to dread. His plans provide incentives for schools to set aside time during the day for teachers to collaborate.
Obama understands that teachers and schools cannot close the achievement gap by themselves, and there needs to be a broader effort by government and society to support children’s health, welfare, and learning.
With nearly a quarter of our children living in poverty — far more than any other industrialized nation in the world — Obama’s plans to address health care, housing, and employment needs are critically important.
Educators who work in low-income communities know how important it is that Obama will provide health care for all children and families (don’t look for anything meaningful on this score from McCain), as well as preschool education and services that support parenting from 0 to 5. His $10 billion investment will enable 700,000 children to attend Head Start and Early Head Start. Meanwhile, McCain offers empty rhetoric about the importance of preschool, pledging only $200,000 per state, if funding is available — enough for about 20 more children per state.
Obama supports education reforms that are designed in partnership with educators, not imposed on them.
His career ladder initiative will encourage districts to develop innovative compensation plans in conjunction with teachers. These plans should support higher base salaries and approaches that encourage teachers to continually improve their skills and share their expertise with others, for example, by serving as mentor teachers. Recognition for knowledge and skills and for excellent teaching that supports student learning can take many forms, like the career ladders developed with teachers in Arizona, New Mexico, Rochester, New York, Cincinnati, Ohio and Helena, Montana. Meanwhile, McCain’s plan to impose merit pay across the country, without working with teachers to avoid the many failures of the past, will be funded by raiding most of the current Title II funds for professional development and class size reduction.
Obama supports public schools and opposes vouchers.
Whereas McCain plans to expand vouchers, Obama has been a consistent and outspoken opponent of vouchers that would drain money from public education. Twice in the Illinois State Senate, Senator Obama voted against bills that would have created tuition tax credits for parents to use for private and parochial schools — legislation that he believed would create “backdoor vouchers.” In a major speech in July he noted, “The ideal of a public education has always been at the heart of the American promise. It’s why we are committed to fixing and improving our public schools, rather than abandoning them and passing out vouchers.” Obama’s School Innovation Fund will support new school designs launched by teachers, administrators, and parents in public school districts. He will also expand accountability along with funding for public charter schools, so that public funds go to support successful schools that serve all students equitably.
Obama would launch the most comprehensive supports for public education we have seen the 1960s, and he will help develop a 21st century system that can ensure quality schools for every child, every year, in every community. The choice for education could hardly be clearer.