Thursday, June 5, 2008

Education comparison

Obama vs. McCain on Education

I went online to the official sites for Obama and for McCain and picked an issue to compare the candidates’ solutions. As I logged on, Lou Dobbs was on the T.V. discussing education. He didn’t really go into how poorly are high school graduates are; how our graduating seniors rank way to lowly compared to other industrialized countries; how companies trying to relocate call centers from India to the U.S. are having difficulty finding highly educated enough people to answer the phones. He was simply discussing our pathetic graduation rates. We only graduate 70% of our kids. It varies race. Whites were a little better than 70%. Hispanics and African Americans were a little better than 50%. Almost half! How can we possibly hope to break the poverty chain with half of these groups not graduating? It made selecting an issue to look at pretty easy. I simply pulled each candidates position on education from their own website. I’ve made zero effort to verify their claims.

First I copied McCain’s position to a Word document. At first glance, I thought it missed some and checked his site again. I got it all. It was a sparse 484 words (including the title). I don’t need a lot of words. The more words in his solutions, the more I have to read. It’s kind of ironic I don’t want to read a whole lot to write an analysis on education. I can deal with the irony. Let me sum of McCain’s proposal in two words; Choice and Accountability. That’s three words but I think it is fair to not to count “and”. Somehow, although not clear from his program, McCain relies on “honest reporting.” I’m concerned he might be considering No Child Left Behind as honest reporting. Unfortunately, NCLB doesn’t have a test. Each state or district has its own testing criteria. There is no consistent method of measuring graduation rates (note that the 70% is likely to be understated). Also there are no measurements of after school participation, extracurricular activities or internships.

Basically, McCain relies on parents seeing the reports, however honest they are or are not, then moving their children to a better school. Federal dollars (which only supplement the schools locally funded budget) would follow the child to the new school. Schools would be forced to compete to be better because if enough students leave, presumably, the school could no longer afford to stay open. Theoretically, this would drive administration and teachers to perform at their best. Unfortunately it provides zero incentives in small town America where there may be no other schools to go to. In areas where most schools are poor performing, an administration really will have no incentive to be more than mediocre. Mediocre when the competition sucks is actually pretty good.

The program works well for middle class students in areas with multiple schools in a reasonable area. Currently, many middle class parents consider school performance before deciding where to live. This will allow parents to separate the decisions of home and school. It will require commuting. That brings us to poor single parents who would have an issue commuting their kids to better schools. McCain is not proposing bussing support. He doesn’t seem to have a plan for who gets into the school. I’m assuming the best school will have more students trying to get in then it has capability for. How is the administration going to select from students. Could a person who lives across the street be left out of a school because too many people from across town want in?

McCain’s program seems like it should be a small part of a bigger program. The affects would be slow and there are too many ways where schools will have no incentive to improve.

Then to Obama’s plan. Obama is planning from birth to graduation from college. He also has a lot of effort put into leveling the education access for the poor. His plan looks at incentives for schools, teachers and students. The main issue with such a comprehensive plan is money. It will be expensive to execute. Obama and I will be always have an issue where he is going to want to spend more of my money than I will want him to spend. At least with education, I can agree on it being a priority.

A quick run down of Obama’s plan:
Provide grants to states to promote voluntary universal pre-school. My kids went to preschool part time. We tried three different schools over their preschool career. The final one they went to is one we are very happy with, but I question how much education they are receiving. This point I have to think is not worth the money.

Quadruple funding for the existing programs of Early Head Start and Head Start in addition to improving the quality of these programs. He does not admit to a plan on how to improve these programs but I am generally a fan of how these programs work currently.

He wants to provide affordably high-quality child care to ease the burden on working families. His words. I don’t really think this is the job of the federal government. Again, don’t spend my money here.

Here wants to reform No Child Left Behind to improve the assessments and the use of these tests. He wants to use the results of the tests to support the schools that need help in contrary to the current program (and McCain’s suggestion) to punish under performing schools.

To improve math and science education he wants to require more math/science teachers and create programs for math/science teachers to work with professionals in their respective fields. He will also expand and deepen the science curriculum at all grade levels.

He wants to invest in intervention strategies to minimize dropouts, providing personal academic plans, teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, etc.

He also wants to expand after school opportunities by doubling the funding to these programs. He has more bullet points on this subject but I’m getting tired to writing about them.

To focus on teachers, he will actively work to recruit, prepare, retain and reward teachers. Additionally, he wants to expand education credits for college. I’m concerned that throwing more money (funded by my taxes) at the colleges will raise their prices, requiring more taxes from me.

Overall, I agree with the school level programs and the teacher supports but I disagree with the cost effectiveness of both the early schooling and increasing federal funding of college.

To be fair, let me show my plan for education.
Increase funding head start, after school programs, etc.
Increase the comprehensiveness of testing with one test being applied across all states. It should include essay, grammar, science, history, etc.
Rate every school based on the test results, improvements from prior years, graduation rates, participation in programs like music, sports and clubs.
Based on these ratings, each year place the bottom performing 200 districts on a five year corrective action plan.
Allow students to go to any school subject to availability and federal funds will follow the students.
Increase teacher pay. Part of the increase can be a flat percent but the rest will be based on locally defined merit.
Increase the length of the school day and the length of the school year.
Start foreign language in 1st grade and maintain foreign language education through out high school.
Require all students to have an internship, do a semester abroad or volunteer prior to graduation.
Create meaning in high school degrees by indicating test performance as well as grade point.

It is my belief that improving the graduation rates and improving the quality of our education, fewer of our graduates will need to go to college. That alone should help with the affordability of college. As few students need college, the cost of college will slow.

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