« The Education Agenda: Candidate McCain | Main | Confusion in California »

The Education Agenda: Candidate Obama


Last week I summarized the education policies of Republican candidate John McCain. This week, let’s take a look at Barack Obama. Please share your response below. After reading both posts, who will win your support this November?

Obama’s official site lays out his policies in detail. It states:

Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.

As a senator, Obama voted in favor of increased funding for after-school and special education programs. He also voted to increase funding to support Title I programs.

When he spoke to the National Education Association in July, he spelled out his views:

We don’t have to accept an America where we do nothing about 6 million students who are reading below grade level. Or only where 20% of our students are prepared to take college level literature class and English, math and science. This kind of America is morally unacceptable to our children, it is economically untenable, and it is not who we are as a nation. And I am running for president of the United States to guarantee that every child has the best possible chance in life. I am tired of hearing teachers blamed for our problems. I want to lead a new era of mutual responsibility in education. One where we all come together, parents and educators and the NEA and the leaders in Washington, citizens all across America united for the sake of our children’s success. Bringing about that future begins with fixing the broken promises of No Child Left Behind. I got some applause here on that. Now I believe that the goals of this laws, or the rights, making the promise to educate every child with an excellent teacher is right. Closing the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and rural areas is right. More accountability is right. Higher standards are right. But forcing our educators, our principles and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong.

My sister is a teacher, I know how hard she works, you are the people who stay past the last bell, spend your own money on books and supplies and go beyond the call of duty because you believe that’s what makes the extra difference and it does. That is why we need to recruit a new generation of teachers and principles to replace the generation that is retiring and those that are leaving. My plan includes service scholarships to recruit top teachers and residency programs to prepare them to serve in high needs schools. And because too often undergraduate debt discourages our young people from choosing education as a professional. I will make this pledge to all those who sign up, if you commit your life to teaching, America will commit to paying for your college education.

In that speech, Obama took a controversial stance on pay for performance:

Under my plan districts will be able to design programs to give educators who serve as mentors to new teachers the salaries that they have earned. We will be able to reward those who teach in under served areas, they take on that added responsibility. And if teachers learn new skills that serve their students better or they consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well. In some places we have already seen that it is possible to find new ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on teachers.

He has also taken irresponsible fathers to task. Speaking on Father’s Day at an African American church in Chicago, he said, “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. ” He said parents who are proud of a child with B grade should push for more. “All Bs? Is that the highest grade?” Obama said. “It’s great that you can get a B, but you can get a better grade. It’s great that you’ve got a job, but you can get a better job.

And in Texas, in February, he told his audience:

It's not good enough for you to say to your child, 'Do good in school,' and then when that child comes home, you got the TV set on, you got the radio on, you don't check their homework, there is not a book in the house, you've got the video game playing.
So turn off the TV set, put the video game away. Buy a little desk or put that child by the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don't know how to do it, give them help. If you don't know how to do it, call the teacher. Make them go to bed at a reasonable time. Keep them off the streets. Give ' em some breakfast. Come on. ... You know I am right.

This analysis in the New York Times suggests Obama is embracing an approach to education that focuses on poverty as a root problem, and calls for a more comprehensive societal response. Obama is quoted saying:
If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community. And we have to focus on what actually works.

What do you think about Barack Obama’s stands on education? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? When you compare the two candidates, who do you think will be better for education?


What you left out (intentionally?) is Mr. Obama's strong support of charter schools. How will he improve public schools when the funding and teacher recruitment he promises are falling through a sieve into a school that doesn't necessarily have the mandate to serve all children? Mr. Obama talks through both sides of his mouth on education, and while I like that he takes the whole community to task for school improvement, I can't help but feel that he undermines that by nodding to the special interests that would remove funding from the central public schools.

Thank you for your comment. I left nothing out intentionally. I provided a link to Obama's web site, which lists positions and proposals far too numerous to all be included. Thank you for bringing up that point.

On this issue, John McCain has proposed vouchers for charter, private and parochial schools.

Which candidate do you prefer?

I was a big fan of Bill Richardson, who wanted to axe NCLB. Obviously that didn't work for me! On education, Obama appears to be the lesser of two evils, although I see many problems: his policies to bring teachers in will, I fear, ultimately lead to strife when new teachers are rewarded more greatly than teachers already in the ranks; as stated above, his commitment to charter schools appears to be a way to drain public schools of any increase in funding that the Democrats might be able to push through; and although I laud a turn from mind-numbing teaching to multiple choice tests, the alternative can be as bad or worse. Here in Virginia, the alternate assessments for students in Exceptional Ed and ESL programs require portfolios that demonstrate knowledge of all state standards. Teachers work weeks of late nights and endless weekends preparing them. Of course, there is no compensation for such demands.

I found the following from New York Times interesting today: here

Thankfully there is no need to cast a ballot until November. There is certainly much to think about and consider, educationally and otherwise, in the mean time.


It's pretty hard to cast Obama as a strong supporter of charter schools. He got beat up pretty badly when he said--speaking to a crowd in Milwaukee (where there is a long history with voucher education) that he was willing to look at the evidence. In my state, charters in fact have the same mandate to serve all children that the public schools do. That said, many of them are as adept at cherry-picking as some of their public school counter-parts. I live in a large urban district that has managed to maintain a few schools that are attractive to a highly middle class audience. These schools are less likely to have units for special education students, quietly counsel some parents and students that they might be better off at another school (including private or charter school), or utilize discipline transfers of varying kinds to get rid of undesirables. When the district studied mobility problems, they were surprised to find that frequently family moves were spurred by bad school experiences, and that school staff infrequently shared with parents school policy that provides transportation to students whose families move mid-year in order to complete the school year at the school that they started at.

I have experienced some of these same tactics in reviewing some of the local charter schools--as well as some teachers who learned them in the public schools. Personally, I am only a luke-warm supporter of the charter movement. Unless carefully controlled, it can serve to further stratify an already stratified system. But their presence has certainly made the local district sit up and take notice. At the front line, I am still likely, as a parent, to encounter rude or dismissive behavior. But the upper echelons have begun to take notice of the fact that the charters, as a group, have not gone away, and that parents are paying attention to some elements other than test scores (including individual attention and school climate) in making their choices. I won't go so far as to say they know how to make some of the changes that they need--but they are certainly better motivated, and know what the changes are.


On Oct. 21, the education advisors to the two candidates -- Lisa Graham Keegan for McCain; Linda Darling-Hammond for Obama -- will face off in a debate at Teachers College, the venerable education school at Columbia University in New York. The debate, which begins at 4 p.m. PDT, will be webcast by Education Week. The moderator will be Susan Fuhrman, the president of Teachers College.

Details here: http://ed.stanford.edu/suse/news-bureau/displayRecord.php?tablename=susenews&id=514

Comments are now closed for this post.


Most Viewed On Teacher



Recent Comments