Education and the 2009 Presidential Election
January 27, 2009, 4:14 pm
This month we interviewed Joe Williams, the Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform to get his take on the two candidates' education policies.
What do you think the most important issues are for education policy in the upcoming election?
One of the most important issues is how we evaluate and pay teachers. Senator Obama has approached it in the way that has gained support from unions and there is a growing feeling that real discussion could happen around how we attract and retain teachers in the classrooms. He is in favor of paying teachers more, but not about increases across the board. He wants to find measures that ensure that high performing teachers are rewarded. Another hot topic is college affordability, particularly with the economy the way it is.
McCain is more focused on the market place and expanding choice. He is trying to push quality from a different perspective and is very supportive of charter schools. McCain focuses on the demand side, while Obama focused on the supply. Obama is focused on changes to the system and setting the tone to teacher compensation, whereas McCain hasn’t gone too far into the weeds on those issues.
McCain has spoken a great deal about instituting a spending freeze on all social programs with the exception of military spending and veteran affairs in response to the country's current economic affairs. How would this affect current education spending?
Anytime a politician is talking about how to implement his proposals, it is hard to tell where they are willing to draw the line when it actually comes time to pay for it. Changes on NCLB can’t really happen unless there is a lot more money on the line, but you never know if McCain will make education a priority enough to put the needed funds into education. Better tests etc. all cost a lot of money and this is a terrible time to talk about the money side. The Democrats that negotiated NCLB were led to believe that there will be much more money attached if Obama is going to do what he talks about doing, so there are some rather strong feelings about the funding aspect out there.
Obama has talked about his plans to make college more affordable, offering programs that would allow college students to pay off debt thru volunteer hours. What effect do you think this plan will have on the average New York City family?
This is one area where the economic reality helps this issue. There will be a lot more discussion and debate about this and a lot of pressure will be put on everyone involved, from the lenders of student loans to the packages that are put together. Having those discussions be part of the mainstream discussion is a great thing. More creative ways to help the families will have to occur to make this work and Universities are going to see the pressure. When there is pressure, we usually get a lot of our best plans made.
What changes in pre-k-12 public education (on a national, state, and NYC level) do you think would happen if Obama got elected?
I think we’ll see a focus on the front end and the back end: a focus on pre-k and high school graduation. Obama is likely to launch discussions around uniform graduation definitions so that being listed as a graduate in Maine is the same as being listed as a graduate in New Mexico. I think we’ll see a continued push from the federal level to sharply define what being a graduate means and what a dropout means so that we can have more accurate measures of our graduation and drop out rates. We will also probably see more investment in Early Childhood Education. And these issues will be addressed early on so Obama can get out of the gate pretty quickly and show that things are moving.
What changes in pre-k-12 public education (on a national, state, and NYC level) do you think would happen if McCain got elected?
I think McCain would try to strengthen the school choice options in NCLB. The Bush people have not been big school choice backers. They said they were, but they were not telling the truth. It seems that McCain’s team is much more choice friendly than Team Bush has been.
We know you have been working very hard with DFER to make education reform a hot topic in this election. What can fellow LinkEders do to help make education reform more on the forefront of everyone's mind, especially the politicians?
There is tremendous value in people talking about this. People can write letters to the editor or pitch op-ed pieces, which make a huge difference to getting attention. People complain that educators aren’t doing enough to get the education topic out there, but it is not enough to let teacher’s unions (or even DFER) speak for educators. Educators need to get out there and make their points. Go on some of the education blogs and comment. The old fashioned version of the public square is totally different these days and everyone can participate.