Tuesday, April 29, 2008

McCain's education temptations

I'm not alone in writing about the school choice options McCain could push in the campaign -- if the campaign chose to elevate the issue. This op-ed in the Wall Street Journal lays out the voucher possibilities. My recent Politico piece looked more at charters and the implications of choosing Lisa Graham Keegan as a top adviser. McCain's advisers, however, caution against expecting to see education float to the top of the campaign issues. The war and the troubled economy will most likely continue to dominate, they predict.

Richard Whitmire

Thursday, April 24, 2008

McCain and Rural Schools

At a town hall meeting in the small town of Inez, Ky. yesterday, Sen. John McCain discussed how he would help rural America—including schools.

He said he wants to bring more high-speed Internet access to rural communities by starting a "People Connect Program" that encourages companies to build the infrastructure in exchange for tax breaks. He touted the importance of community colleges and alternative paths to teaching (such as Teach for America) for school districts that struggle to recruit educators. (This item is cross-posted from my Campaign K-12 blog.)

Even as a significant amount of talk about education reform centers on the nation's struggling urban districts, it's important that the candidates recognize the issues facing rural schools.

And here's why:

In 2005-06, 20 percent of the country's public school students lived in large or mid-size cities, according to some number crunching I just did from data I pulled from the National Center for Education Statistics. That's 9.6 million students.

Rural areas, in fact, enroll more students— 10.6 million students, or 22 percent of the total.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Doing the NCLB 180

Huge thank you's to Alexander Russo for noting Hillary Clinton's 180 on NCLB. Alexander comments here, and leads you to David Nather's Beyond the Dome blog here. Richard Whitmire also has been terrific about posting leads on Clinton's education comments, which have been secondary to economy and war pronouncements.
Despite the new toss-the-baby-and-bathwater rhetoric, we're still not hearing much about what she would offer as a replacement to a multi-faceted law that began life as civil rights legislation (Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965) focused on closing an achievement gap.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

McCain's education plans

The senator's own education advisers downplay the likelihood that education will play a major role in his campaign. The war and economy will overshadow other issues, they predict. That's probably true, but education also presents an opportunity for the senator. That opportunity, however, is not risk free. The dilemma is presented here in Politico. (Full disclosure: I wrote the piece)

Richard Whitmire

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Education an issue (sort of) in Pennsylvania

Stephen Colbert, the comic pundit of truthiness, has started a campaign in Pennsylvania that affects education -- and it's tied to the primary race between Obama and Clinton.

Supporters of the two candidates should contribute through DonorsChoose.org to help classrooms in Pennsylvania. Colbert showed pictures students from those classrooms drew in honor of Clinton and Obama, complete with his own unique interpretation of the children's illustrations Tuesday night.

Obama is winning by a landslide, by the way. And it takes a comedian to highlight education during this race?

Democrats drawing applause for attacking NCLB

In Pennsylvania, both Clinton and Obama appear to be picking up the pace of their attacks on No Child Left Behind -- rewarded by the applause they receive for the attacks. This article by Eleanor Chute of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette nicely sums up both the attacks and the most current education positions offered up by the campaigns.

Richard Whitmire

Friday, April 4, 2008

McCain Seeks Jeb Bush's Advice

If you want some insight into Sen. John McCain's education ideas, check out this Associated Press story, which mentions a key adviser to his campaign.

Fellow Republican and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

McCain, who was campaigning in Florida with Bush's successor, Gov. Charlie Crist, said he's been seeking Bush's advice on education for the last couple of years, and would continue to do so if elected in November. (This is cross-posted from my Campaign K-12 blog over at edweek.org.)

Bush, who was a big supporter of school vouchers, standardized testing, and merit pay for teachers during his 1999-2007 term in office, has been working on beefing up his education legacy through a new foundation he unveiled last month. In fact, the head of his foundation is also responsible for helping revive his voucher plan for failing schools, which was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court in 2004.

McCain doesn't have an incredibly deep bench of education advisers, nor does he talk much about education. So relying on Bush, who made education a top priority (even if many didn't agree with his methods), is probably a smart move for McCain.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

McCain Finally Starts Talking Education

We've heard more from John McCain on education in these last two days than I think we've heard from him during the entire campaign. And although he hasn't really touted any new ideas, he's at least talking about education on his own terms.

As part of a nationwide biographical tour, the GOP nominee on Monday appeared in Meridian, Miss., where he talked for a good while about government's role in children's lives. He said this about education:

Government can't just throw money at public education while reinforcing the failures of many of our schools, but should, through choice and competition, by rewarding good teachers and holding bad teachers accountable, help parents prepare their children for the challenges and opportunities of the global economy.

And yesterday, against the backdrop of Episcopal High School, a private boarding school he attended in Alexandria, Va., McCain spoke eloquently about the influence of the school's teachers and its honor code, and how those high school years from 1951 to 1954 were among the happiest of his life. While attending school there, Sen. McCain participated in yearbook, the drama club, and wrestling.

He said:

Every child should be blessed with a teacher like I had, and to learn at institutions with high academic standards and codes of conduct that reinforce the values their parents try to impart to them.

He acknowledged, in his speech, that not everyone has those experiences. Half of African American and Hispanic students don't graduate on time, he said. The country's math and science scores are near the bottom of industrialized countries, he continued.

He touted merit pay for teachers, and encouraging more people, especially military veterans, to turn to teaching as a career. You can hear more of his thoughts about teachers—who he says should be treated like heroes— in the video I included at the end of this post.

And, he said parents should be able to get their kids out of bad schools and into good ones.

Presumably, good ones like Episcopal.

Episcopal has an average class size of 12—a public school teacher's dream. The school also gets to pick and choose who it educates. For the 2007-08 school year, 668 students applied, and 197 were accepted. Although 30 percent of its students receive financial aid, this education comes with a hefty price tag:

$38,200 a year.

That's more than the median family income of a black family in the U.S., which was $31,969 a year in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The income of a Hispanic family also falls below the school's tuition level. The median income for a white family was $50,673 in 2006.

In this speech, McCain talked more about education than at any other time in the campaign. But didn't say what families should do if they can't afford a better school, whether it be a pricey Episcopal, a less expensive inner-city Catholic school, or another public school across town that's the price of city bus fare everyday.