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Why Educators Should Support Barack Obama

[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.



  • 1 Why teachers should support Obama. « Fred Klonsky’s PREA Prez Blog
    · Sep 22, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    […] impact of teacher quality on student learning and an Obama adviser, is a guest blogger on the UFT Edwize […]

  • 2 Linda Darling-Hammond on Obama and teachers « JD2718
    · Sep 22, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    […] Darling-Hammond’s piece (on edwize) is a good place to […]

  • 3 RSchwaber
    · Sep 22, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    How can anyone not vote for Barack Obama? He will give us free healthcare, free college tuition, and if you earn less than $250,000 you will not have to pay federal income tax. Additionally, he will see than you can purchase a home and you will only have to pay a mortgage that you think is reasonable. Change we can believe in.

  • 4 Why Educators Should Support Barack Obama | No Child Left Behind?
    · Sep 22, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    […] Read the original: Why Educators Should Support Barack Obama […]

  • 5 Love to Teach
    · Sep 22, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    That is a lot of promises. He sounds like Santa Claus !!!

  • 6 Peter Goodman
    · Sep 23, 2008 at 11:06 am

    The core of McCain’s education program is to attack and demonize teacher unions and vigorously encourage vouchers … basically to privatize public education … the very survival of public education is at stake. Just imagine Joel Klein as Secty of Education.

  • 7 Mike Froning
    · Sep 24, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Has anyone actually read McCain’s proposals for education? Virtually every idea he has can be tracked back to his (now obviously) failed philosophy of deregulation. He would de-professionalize teaching and teacher preparation. As a 36-year classroom teacher, now a dean of education, I see nothing in McCain’s plan for me nor my teacher colleagues. On the other hand, read through the Obama plan! The guy “gets” teaching. I could argue maybe with individual pieces of his proposals, but in general terms I haven’t seen a better plan from a politician regarding public school education in the 46 years since I was first able to vote. Linda’s article is spot on.

  • 8 The presidential election and the future of No Child Left Behind | Warner Perspectives
    · Sep 29, 2008 at 9:36 am

    […] Moreover, we need to know more about who is advising Obama, who has developed close connections to corporate and political leaders from his work with the Chicago schools. Many of the leaders with whom he is close have pushed a corporate reform agenda. Pauline Lipman, in her book High Stakes Education: Inequality, Globalization, and Urban School Reform and in a chapter co-authored with me in my book, has criticized recent Chicago reforms for exacerbating inequality and creating a dual unequal city. On the other hand, Linda Darling-Hammond, well known Stanford University professor and contributor to the proposal Democracy at Risk: The Need for a New Federal Policy in Education, has had a more progressive influence on Obama’s policies and has recently written a blog on why educators should support Obama: http://edwize.org/why-educators-should-support-barack-obama. […]

  • 9 Register to vote by Oct. 10 | Edwize
    · Oct 8, 2008 at 11:41 am

    […] Why Educators Should Support Barack Obama by Linda Darling […]

  • 10 Live Debate: Education and the Next President | Edwize
    · Oct 16, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    […] Columbia University will host “Education and the Next President,” a debate between Linda Darling-Hammond, education adviser to Barack Obama, and Lisa Graham Keegan, education adviser to John McCain. […]

  • 11 caliarch.net » Blog Archive » Why I’m Voting Obama
    · Oct 17, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    […] That’s why. […]

  • 12 Debate: Education and the Next President | Edwize
    · Oct 22, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    […] night was the Edweek-sponsored, Teachers College-hosted debate between Linda Darling-Hammond and Lisa Graham Keegan, prominent education advisers to Obama and McCain, […]

  • 13 Musings on Election Day and the Obama Victory | Edwize
    · Nov 6, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    […] like New Leaders for New Schools head John Schnur? or, from the Bolder, Broader Coalition, perhaps Linda Darling-Hammond, or Arne Duncun, the current Chicago Schools Superintendent who has signed both the educational […]