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Obama vs. McCain, Round 3: The Education Bonanza


For the first time in the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain and Barack Obama engaged in a sustained, serious discussion about education--something they've done via press releases, or through their advisers, but never face to face.

But even after moderator Bob Schieffer devoted the last question of the third and final presidential debate, at Hofstra University, to how to improve education, voters still don't have much of an idea of what either candidate would do with the central K-12 education policy of the federal government: the No Child Left Behind Act.

Instead, the two candidates hit highlights from their stump speeches. Obama talked of his support for early childhood education, a $4,000 college tuition tax credit, and parental responsibility. McCain talked about the importance of choice and competition, and the need for more alternative teacher-recruitment programs such as Teach for America.

You can read the transcript of their exchange here, including some brief references to NCLB. (Obama reiterated a popular phrase that it was the money "left behind," while McCain said it was a "great first beginning." He also said the law should be reauthorized.)

Some other highlights of their education answers:

--McCain focused mostly on his support for charter schools as he argued for school choice, and brought up private school vouchers only after Obama did. (McCain's school choice proposal is to expand the federal voucher program in the District of Columbia by $7 million.)

--The subject of vouchers elicited one of Obama's strongest lines: "The centerpiece of Sen. McCain's education policy is to increase the voucher program in D.C. by 2,000 slots. That leaves all of you who live in the other 50 states without an education reform policy from Sen. McCain."

--McCain emphasized his support of Head Start, saying "Let's reform it and fund it." His early education plan, though, is fairly limited and includes a Head Start provision that's already in law.

--Washington Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who is not the most popular with the teachers' union in the nation's capital right now for her support of a pay-for-performance plan, has a fan in Obama, who called her a wonderful, new superintendent. McCain said that Rhee supports the federal voucher program for her city, too.

--McCain talked a lot in the debate about autism awareness, emphasizing that his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, knows about that issue "better than most." But Palin's infant son, Trig, has Down syndrome, not autism.

--The premise of Schieffer's question deserves perspective. He talked of the country spending more than any other on education, but it's worth pointing out that many other countries have government health care, which means schools don't have to pay those costs on behalf of their teachers. If U.S. school districts didn't have to pay for escalating health care costs of their teachers, then funding comparisons might look different.

This question wasn't the only time during the debate that the candidates touched on education.

Earlier, the two squared off face-to-face about Bill Ayers, the Chicago education professor and 1960s-era radical whom the McCain campaign has sought to tie to Obama.

As promised, McCain engaged Obama in a verbal skirmish over the Ayers controversy. McCain reiterated that he doesn’t care about an “old, washed-up terrorist,” but said he does care about how forthcoming Obama has been about the facts. So Obama explained the facts this way:

Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan's former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg. Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of the Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper. Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House. So that's Mr. Ayers.

Perhaps more surprising is that Obama made his most high-profile statement yet in support of pay-for-performance for teachers. He invoked pay-for-performance (without specifying whether he would pay based on student test scores) as he tried to give examples of how he’s bucked his own party.

“I support charter schools and pay for performance for teachers. Doesn't make me popular with the teachers' union," Obama said.

The thing is, Obama and his advisers have consistently said he would support teacher-pay programs developed with teachers, and not imposed on them. That’s not exactly bucking his party. Also, while some Democratic interest groups may still oppose charter schools, there are a lot of Democratic leaders who embrace such independent public schools.


Not to be petty- but anyone who has any idea about children with special needs had to catch the fact that McCain doesn't know the difference between Autism and Down's syndrome.

Also- McCain laughs, snorts, rather than giving an intelligent response. If he wants to distance himself from W- then he should stop acting like him in these debates.

McCain reminds me of the Penguin in one of the Batman movies and is downright rude and arrogant. Yes, McCain laughs and snorts, because he can't answer the questions. The debate showed how lacking in intelligence and character McCain is. Right, he doesn't even know the difference between autism and Down's syndrome.

We don't need another term of Bush. McCain/Palin are not sound of mind and will destroy this country even more.

As an aside, did you know that Neil Bush profited a lot from the NCLB Act and high stakes testing?

Go to:
I remember the savings and loan fraud in Denver in which Neil Bush was involved.
Many people lost their life savings.


No more Bushies. And this country cannot afford to have McCain/Palin in office. They are bad news.

I'm a (reluctant) NEA member, and my union sent an email to all members last week urging them to vote for Obama, claiming that Obama has pledged to "overhaul" NCLB. Last night he only pledged to fund it, not overhaul it. I don't know which is lying-- Obama or the NEA.

I don't believe either candidate or party has a clue what to do to improve public education K-12. Vouchers may help a few families but cannot "scale up" to the size required to help all who need it. Obama's solution is to ask parents to turn off the TV, and give college tuition money to kids who (evidently) aren't academically prepared for college.

Look for 4 more years of no improvement in K-12 education, regardless of election results.

I am dismayed that both candidates continue to blame teachers and schools for poor test scores. Appropriate technology and research can ensure that every student learn at his own developmental level and individual style ready to work in the 21st century. We have the best experts and resources to make the necessary improvements. Uninformed politicians are worsening the education crisis.

The past three Presidents saw themselves as being our “Education Presidents.” From Goals 2000 Blueprint to No Child Left Behind, Bush, Sr., Clinton, and W. sought to use the Federal Government as the primary agent of school reform. In so doing, they centralized and regulated curriculum, standards, and accountability while arguing on behalf of reforms grounded in the ideas of free markets and parental choice.

As for McCain and Obama, neither openly aspires to being called an Education President. Rather, their educational reform proposals are tied to the votes of their respective party constituencies. The two parties’ platforms are not educative in spelling out how politicians will eliminate waste, earmarks, and programs that favor party loyalists. The platforms do not define the meanings of world class education, investment, vital services, etc.

So should we be pessimistic or optimistic? I’ll choose the latter. For two decades, local and school based leaders and teachers have been good soldiers following top down orders. Under McCain and Obama, we educators will have to quickly unlearn the oppressive routines of testing and return our schools and classrooms to spaces for creative teaching, guidance, learning, and leadership. We may again be able to focus on the whole child, not just the student who must pass the English, Math and Science standardized tests.

Whether McCain or Obama, we must be ready to accept local educational leadership responsibilities as previous generations have throughout our history.

I don't think either candidate was well-prepared to talk about education. Both were incapable of any kind of insightful response to Bob Schieffer's original question, which was to explain why we spend so much for a mediocre product. Schieffer asked a $20 question and got only a $5 response from Obama and maybe a $1.50 response from McCain.

Next Tuesday's debate between Linda Darling Hammond and Lisa Graham Keegan at Teachers College (Columbia U.) should be more substantive.

I don't think either candidate was well-prepared to talk about education. Both were incapable of any kind of insightful response to Bob Schieffer's original question, which was to explain why we spend so much for a mediocre product. Schieffer asked a $20 question and got only a $5 response from Obama and maybe a $1.50 response from McCain.

Next Tuesday's debate between Linda Darling Hammond and Lisa Graham Keegan at Teachers College (Columbia U.) should be more substantive.

Until we distance education from politics, nothing will be gained. Education should never be anyone's political football to bounce around erratically. Good teachers are discouraged by the inane requirements being placed upon them. I have watched teachers with wonderful, creative ideas fade into the use of robotic behaviors. Leave education to the states where it belongs.

McCain clearly has a weak plan to improve education. His idea to bring in more teachers from the private sector is laughable. Slaming the profession by insisting that the problem lies in so many poor performing teachers. We should say the same to our political friends. The mainstream media and politians don't understand our own society. Our educational system takes everyone who cares and tries through high school. Europe and Asia select their students that go to high school putting the less academic in trade schools. When we compare numbers, the U.S. looks bad but they are comparing apples and oranges. I say American schools are doing fine. Look at our colleges and universities where people flock to from all over the world.

As i do agree that both Senators tried their best to come up with solutions to Education. I truely believe that both of them agreed on one thing, that in my opinion, is the most important of all.
I am a mother who has entered the public school system in the last 2 years and what i have witnessed so far is not to good and I live in one of the best communities, in middle class, in Florida. I have been giving this lots of thought and the one thing that everything comes down too is ONE thing, TEACHERS!!! They can make or break a child. They have the power to say this child is smart, this child is dumb, i like this kid, i don't like that kid. I have seen great teachers in action and the worst type of teacher in action.
I have asked myself the same question over and over,,,, why are these teachers who do not know how to teach, still teaching in our schools. Doesn't anyone see that no matter how many programs and money the government throws at the school system it will not change, UNless they make changes in teachers!!! They have the power, over which child gets left behind, not the government!!!
We should develop a program based on teachers ---- 7 , 8, 9 strikes your out program.Teachers should not be allow to teach if they are not good or excellent teachers, PERIOD. If a teacher decides this student is bad, he cannot learn,I've seen teachers that will not bother with that child, instead of giving that child extra attention, they will give less attention.
Teachers need to be taught how to deal with kids that need more catching up, not focus on the ones that are already caught up!!!! Their is a big problem in America with TEACHERS and unless we fix that first, no matter how much money we throw into Public school education, nothing is going to change!!!


It is pretty much a fallacy to suggest that other countries are outperforming us because the only test the college bound. TIMSS tests at 4th and 8th grade and PISA tests at age 15--precisely to avoid the differences in secondary education that exist within countries (even our own). We are even losing ground in terms of colleges and universities being the most attractive globally. The issue is not that we have gotten worse, but that we have stagnated while others have moved forward.

There is in fact data to support that teachers are not among the best and the brightest on college entry--with some uptick since HQT requirements have been in place (not implying a causal relationship). Other countries are far more selective than the US at this point. So, retraining some of the best and the brightest from other fields has some logic to it, if done properly. We have a great deal to learn from other countries, if we could just get over our bias that we are the best and the brightest and everybody else should be learning from us.

The teachers and students are the same regardless of where you go. Improve the curriculum and you will improve teaching and learning. Until the US separates evaluation of curriculum from the curriculum, we will continue failing to educate a large percentage of our students. Americans are willing to spend substantial amounts of money on education, yet we complain about the results, but no one appears bothered by our textbooks or how many students fail to graduate (a number that is still widely disputed). Poverty is no longer served in the US, but written off as trash.

"It is the spirit of this age to believe that any fact, no matter how suspect, is superior to any imaginative exercise, no matter how true." - Gore Vidal

Teachers across America are being "left behind" and laid off due to budget cuts. I am one of those teachers. In the 2007-2008 school year, I was laid off twice. First, from PACE Center for Girls, Inc., a program for juvenile delinquent girls, and second from Key West High School. I gave 110% of myself to make a difference in the lives of as many children as possible, and ended up jobless once again. Teaching is my passion, although I run a non-profit literacy organization, Choices i Control Academic Program, Inc. Dozens of teachers across Monroe County School District were laid off, and I was on the cutting block because I was new. Superintendent Randy Acevedo claimed that he would lay off teachers to offset the budget cut, and put administrators back into the classroom. What?! I couldn't imagine any of the assistant principals teaching kids because the kids would have no respect for them. My students petitioned and pleaded for me to stay, but it didn't make a difference because states are cutting education like slices of cake. Well, I am no baker, but I am hotter than an oven! LOL. I was sitting around watching the debate, and it was funny to see how uneducated the presidential candidates seemed to be on the topic of education reform. Obama focused on early childhood education, which I feel is already doing well. McCain preached about a voucher program for D.C. I conducted further research on both their websites and I read, compared and contrasted their plans for education. Both plans, in my opinion, had great points, yet they both negate something far more important. Education reform begins with the subject of WRITING. As an education consultant, training educators how to implement my writing program across the curriculum, I realized that teachers lacked basic writing skills. I also noticed that writing instruction is limited or non-existent in schools nationwide. How can we honestly prepare our children for success if they are illiterate? Children who write can read, but children who read may not know how to write. Writing is a prerequisite for gaining employment in all industries, obtaining a scholarship for college, or admission to college. In many states, children must write an essay for high school exit exams and college entrance too. Children are writing more than ever in the Information Age, yet they are not using proper English in these daily communications on social networking sites, text messaging, or instant messaging. They have created a language of their own, and this language is hardly proper. Education reform begins with writing, not science and mathematics. If a child cannot read a science textbook, or write a hypothesis, then what good would it be? Everyone knows that children learn best when they write it down. Blogging is popular among teens, but how many teachers include blogging in the curriculum? Our teachers need serious professional development in writing and technology. Obama and McCain need to increase funding in these two areas if they ever think about reforming education. I am undecided about who to vote for, and I am afraid that my vote won't matter much, especially if both candidates do not recognize the real problem which teachers face. Have they even bothered to survey teachers and students to find out what bothers them most? I don't think so. Until we start to ask the children about the problems they face, then we will never understand them. Why don't we start to meet children on their level, and bring them up to ours? Why don't we humble ourselves and learn from our children, who have a wealth of knowledge and experience on topics many of us do not understand? These children of the Information Age are more technologically savvy than I ever was, and I am only 27 years old. I am looking for educators to stand up and take control of this education crisis. We need to stop relying on government policies to tell us how best to educate our children. Until we join hands and stand up for our children, we will continue to have this debate, going in circles, pointing the finger, and allowing our children to be dumbed down. We need to teach our children to make the right decisions in life, and make the right choice for their education. Education should not rest in the hands of politicians. Policies fail every day. A voucher program may be a temporary fix, but can we tackle the deeper issue? Children and adults cannot write. Corporations spend millions of dollars each year on professional development in writing. Why can't we see that poor writing skills may be the root of most problems in education. An inability to write, means an inability to think effectively. Authentic self-expression is necessary if we want our children to become powerful adults. All I can say, if I did not learn how to write, I would probably be dead. Many of the kids in the projects ended up 6 feet under. Writing was my outlet and my ticket to freedom. A child who does not know how to write is doomed to a life of mental slavery. Rachel Kenyata Armour AKA Kenyata Truth, Founder and President of Choices i Control Academic Program, Inc. "In Life, There are Choices i Control." www.teachuswrite.com.

To Ms Armour, speaking of teachers not being able to write, did you notice that your post was one long paragraph?

Did you notice that in your name "of" should be "off?" I apologize that I don't know html code to format my paragraphs appropriately. On the other hand, your negative energy is not welcome here. Please be positive. Thank you in advance.

so what may be she has a lot to say about mccain. if u dont like it u shouldn't be on this site. thanks

so what may be she has a lot to say about mccain. if u dont like it u shouldn't be on this site. thanks

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