Election 2008 and TC's Education Debate
Published in Inside - Volume XIV, No. 2
“Right now, we don’t have the capacity to ensure that everyone gets what is really the new civil right—access to a high-quality education,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, Education Advisor to Democratic nominee Barack Obama. “That is going to require equalization of resources, and it is going to require investments. When people—particularly rich people—say that money doesn’t matter, I don’t see them trying to give it up.”
Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University and previously a long-time TC faculty member, said that the United States has “fallen to 35th in the world in math, to 15th in terms of college access,” that “the nation’s graduation rate has been stagnant for 40 years,” and that those failures “are costing us in many ways—in our economy, in our national security.”
But Lisa Graham Keegan, Education Advisor to Republican
nominee John McCain, said, “there is just not one single credible study now
that says what we really need to do in the United States is spend more money.”
Keegan said that the
Keegan, formerly Superintendent of Public Instruction for
The debate, titled “Education and the Next President,” was
moderated by Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman in TC’s 600-seat
The exchanges between Keegan and Darling-Hammond were, on the whole, genteel and at times even collegial. Still, there were moments when sparks flew.
For example, Keegan described McCain as a strong supporter of using merit pay for teachers, saying he would like principals to be able to use federal money “to reward teachers primarily on the basis of student achievement.” But she said that constraints such as “bargained agreements” with teachers unions typically prevent merit pay arrangements.
Darling-Hammond countered that Obama prefers to “recognize and reward excellence in teaching as part of a career development program that ensures that beginning teachers get strong mentoring on the way into the profession.” She said such “career ladder” initiatives “have lasted much longer than many of the merit pay plans that have come and gone” in recent years—including Florida’s, which the state scrapped not long ago.
“Even some teachers who received the bonuses felt they were unearned,” she said. “They felt that it was creating a competition among teachers instead of teachers working collegially, and that it was disadvantaging teachers who took on the neediest students. There were a lot of concerns.”
The speakers also clashed over charter schools and vouchers. Keegan said that McCain “would absolutely lift any caps on the ability of states” to create new charters and that, unlike Obama, he “does not want to get into the business of saying to states what an effective charter school program is.”
Darling-Hammond said Obama has “proposed to expand both funding for public school charters and accountability” and that he “wants to see that failing charters are closed while successful charters are enabled to move forward.
“Choice isn’t worth much if all it does is move around the deck chairs on the Titanic,” she said.
Ultimately, the speakers agreed on little beyond Fuhrman’s observation that “too little has been said about education” in the presidential campaign—and for that, both blamed the media.
Here’s a sampler of what Keegan and Darling-Hammond said on other issues:
No Child Left Behind
Darling-Hammond: “We need to be able to look at measures that, in addition to the kinds of standardized tests we currently have, evaluate 21st century skills. If you look at other countries, their assessments include relatively few multiple-choice items and, in some cases, none. Kids are doing science inquiries, research papers, technology projects. Those are part of the examination system. They are part of the accountability system, in countries that are top-ranked in the world.”
Keegan: “Senator McCain is absolutely adamant that state standards and the assessments for kids that are in place have got to stay in place. The problem with backing off of assessments and turning them into portfolios [compendia of students’ work over time] or things that are more subjective is that we can’t compare kids.”
Early Childhood Education
Darling-Hammond: “The early childhood research base is really clear that high-quality preschool has strong and lasting benefits for students throughout school. Obama’s plan is to expand access because right now, only about 40 percent of the children eligible for Head Start get access to Head Start. Only three percent of the children eligible for Early Head Start get access to Early Head Start.”
Keegan: “If it were true—and I wish it were—that preschool was resulting in this fabulous effect, then by now we should have a lot more progress in elementary, middle and high school. The vast majority of our four-year-olds have access to a preschool program. The question is whether it is effective access. Are those kids ready? Are they lucky enough to be in the presence of somebody who knows how to get their language going? Senator McCain is saying, look, we have got to talk about the quality of these programs.”
Teacher preparation: alternative vs. traditional certification
Keegan: “Senator McCain believes that Teach for
Darling-Hammond: “Let’s talk statistics. Thirty percent of teachers leave [Teach For America] within five years—that’s the federal number from the Baccalaureate and Beyond survey—and others show that 49 percent of those who come in without training leave within that period of time. Nineteen percent of those who come in fully trained leave in that period of time. So there is a big difference from how long prepared teachers stay in the profession.”
Darling-Hammond: “Senator Obama is opposed to vouchers. He
believes they drain money from the public schools. What we have found in the
voucher programs is quite often a lot of the private schools don’t really want
high-need kids with poor attendance records and low test scores. They don’t
want to participate in the voucher. For education to get better for those
children, they need high-quality public schools.”
Keegan: “It’s disingenuous to have been the recipient of a scholarship of a private school [as Obama was for some years] and lecture people that going to a private school drains money from the public schools. Countries that have more than 50 percent private schools have better public schools. So Senator McCain, although it’s a small portion of his plan, does believe in a desperate situation like D.C. where kids are failing to learn to read, if parents want an option, [vouchers are] probably a good idea.”
Access to higher education
Darling-Hammond: “Senator Obama has worked with the
Congress to raise the amount of the Pell Grant so that it more closely
approximates what people actually have to pay. He has also proposed a $4,000 a
year tax credit for young people to go to college. That will pay about
two-thirds of the cost of college at a public college or university, and will
enable virtually all young people who are qualified, have made the grades and
are ready to advance, to be able to go to college.”
Keegan: “There are a number of highly successful projects now that have college work in the high school. And kids can collect credits while in high school and reduce the cost. Senator McCain wants to make sure there is already a connection made around the junior year and certainly by the senior year between a student and what their post-secondary work is. So either they are already being connected into high-level vocational training for life-sustaining skills work or to the military, if that’s where they are headed, or they are already engaged with a community college or university.
“The other thing he would do is to take all of the grant programs—unfortunately, we had the Congress add 50 new categories to higher ed granting programs—and make that a much cleaner project. We could add $3 billion by simply streamlining the project, and Senator McCain is saying all of the grant programs have got to be under one umbrella so that they are easy for families, they are accessible, there is transparent information about schools.”
Keegan: “I think the efforts have been noteworthy over the past few years to try to tie instruction to scientifically-based research, to really hold our feet to the fire on whether what we are doing is having an effect on student achievement gains. But there is room for improvement there.
“Senator McCain says we have got to get out of the process
of doing earmarked research projects and get to a place where we can absolutely
have a national area of focus. He is proposing putting somebody in the White
House whose brief is basic research in the
Darling-Hammond: “The Obama campaign has talked about how to ratchet up substantially both the amount and quality of educational research, so that we are making decisions based on what works. He also proposes a panel of education researchers, practitioners, business people and others who will help us think about how to scale up what works. How do you think about the governance changes? How do you think about the networking that’s needed? In doubling the research budget, he looks for more research on learning, learning for special needs students and English language learners, as well as learning in general, so we begin to tackle issues we have in enabling all kids to meet standards. And also research about how to develop more of the “D” in the R&D, to develop the kinds of curriculum and assessments that will be productive for the full range of learners in our schools.”previous page