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Making the grade?

"Making the grade?" Continued...

Issue: "Two-ring circus," Sept. 6, 2008

McCain, on the other hand, calls NCLB "invaluable in providing a clear picture of which schools and students are struggling" but sees the program as "only the beginning of education reform." The Arizona senator would move away from assessments that focus on "group averages" and focus instead on "inspiring every child to reach his or her potential." One specific idea: allowing education service providers, such as tutors, to bypass local districts and market directly to parents in an effort to help kids in struggling schools meet state standards.

Both candidates support merit pay, but differ on which teachers deserve extra cash and for what. McCain advocates performance bonuses for teachers "who raise student achievement and enhance the school-wide learning environment." Peer evaluations, student subgroup improvements, or removal from the state's "in need of improvement" list might also rate a bonus at the discretion of school principals.

At Saddleback in August, Obama took almost the opposite view: He supports a merit pay plan developed and approved by teachers "so that they feel like they're being judged fairly, [and] it's not at the whim of the principal." Obama's campaign website clarifies his position: All compensation plans should be developed by teachers unions (which have historically opposed merit pay), and incentive bonuses would not necessarily be tied to student performance.

Fully one-third of Obama's plan focuses on providing more federal money for teacher recruitment, training, pay, mentoring, and professional development. Still, Kevin Chavous, a distinguished fellow at the Center for Education Reform and founder of Democrats for Education Reform, said Obama has "made it clear he's not going to be a rubber stamp for the teachers unions." Chavous notes that Obama pointedly skipped the National Education Association's election-year convention, usually a compulsory stop on the Democratic campaign trail.

Americans are clamoring for changes in education with "a greater sense of urgency," Chavous said. "American parents are sick and tired of the promises associated with public education. I think we're reaching that tipping point where pressure is going to increase on presidents and other elected officials to create real reform."

On the record

Obama

  • Proposes billions in new federal spending for a variety of programs spanning birth to college
  • Supports teacher merit pay as agreed to by teachers unions
  • Advocates an across-the-board pay raise for all teachers
  • Would allocate $10 billion for new early childhood education programs, and promises to double spending on this education sector
  • Proposes altering accountability measures to support schools that change rather than punish those that don't

McCAIN

  • Would keep federal education spending at current levels and give principals more discretion over funds
  • Supports charter schools, homeschooling, and certain voucher programs
  • Would alter student assessment measures to focus on individual rather than group success
  • Supports teacher merit pay based on student improvement with additional bonuses decided at the local level
  • Advocates bypassing education bureaucracies to give parents more tools to improve their own children's performance

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