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.

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