Some Ed Reccs for Senator McCain

Thanks to the Fordham Foundation’s Flypaper blog ( we now have a good sense for the great minds advising expected Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain on education policy.  As to be expected, it is an impressive bunch.  Their challenge, though, will be to get education issues to stand out on the Arizona Senator’s proposed domestic policy agenda.

No, McCain is not known in DC circles as one of the Senate’s leaders on education.  But that doesn’t mean he can’t rise to the occasion.  The presidential bully pulpit is a strong one, and education remains a top five domestic policy issue for most.  If you can’t figure out how to fix the economy in the short term, you certainly can focus on education for the long-term economic benefit.

More than a year ago, Eduflack offered a top-five list of education ideas for the Republican nominee to think about when constructing an education platform.  A lot has changed since then.  The latest State of the Union seemed to de-emphasize the future of vouchers.  Research still isn’t sure the long-term impact of charter schools.  And the expected Democratic presidential nominee has been known to talk about merit pay for teachers. 

That said, let’s take a look at those March 2007 recommendations:

1.  National standards benefit the nation.  Such standards don’t mean we are denying local control.  They empower our local districts to remain competitive in their state, across the nation, and throughout the world.  National standards, both for students and teachers, are the only way today’s students can succeed in tomorrow’s global economy.

2. Invest in education R&D.  We all understand the value of investing in medical or technology R&D.  Now is the time to invest in research focused on improving our schools and educational quality in our classrooms.  Such investment is key to triggering true innovation at the state or national level, leading to improved economies, better jobs, and better lives.

3. Respect the practitioners.  It is easy for some to say our schools have failed because our teachers have failed.  If any Republican wants to engender change in our schools, they need to respect the teachers delivering the curriculum.  They are on the front lines.  Without their support, reform will fall flat, destined for a garbage heap of good but failed ideas.

4. Don’t fear additional spending.  NCLB scared off many a Republican, particularly with increased federal education spending.  The feds are still only responsible for about 8 cents of every dollar spent on public K-12 education.  Additional funding is good for the system, as long as we are spending it on research-proven instruction and improvements we know will boost student achievement.

5. Focus on what works.  For decades, our schools have been bombarded with the latest in snakeoils and silver bullets.  Today’s educators want to see what works in schools like theirs, with kids lke theirs.  NCLB is all about replicable school reforms.  Now is the time to spotlight what is going right in your hometown or your home state, and use it as the model for why we need to continue federal education reforms.  Many of today’s improvements are directly tied to NCLB efforts.  Take credit for it.”

Interestingly, these reccs ring as true today as they did 15 months ago.  But I’d offer a few caveats to Arizona’s senior senator:

* Don’t hitch your wagon to NCLB, attach yourself to the intent.  It isn’t about “NCLB” the proper, it is about doing what works and funding what is proven effective.  Forget the title of the law.  Focus on the outcomes.  The federal government has a role in public education.  Claim that role, focusing on the future and expected goals.

* Don’t forget, you were a teacher too.  As a leader in the Navy, you instructed and taught.  You molded and trained young men.  It may not have been the ABCs or the quadratic equation, but you understand the importance of good teaching.  Remind us of it.

* Shine your education agenda through the filter of economic opportunity.  Too often, we view education in a vacuum.  We can’t afford to do that in today’s economy.  Education policies should be positioned as opportunities to better prepare today’s kids for the opportunities of tomorrow.  That doesn’t mean turning our K-12 schools into trade schools, but it does mean an education that is relevant to both the student and the world.

* Borrow (and steal) from the Arizona experience.  As you are looking at what is relevant, take a close look at what your Governor has been doing.  Her focus on innovation and STEM education shows what we need to be thinking about in education reform.  Speaking from the Arizona experience, you can let the home state serve as a model for others in need.  You come from a state that gets it.

Eduflack isn’t naive.  I recognize that education is not going to be a primary discussion topic for you between now and November.  I don’t expect it will be an issue for a keynote speech during the Minneapolis convention.  But I know it is a basic bread-and-butter issue that can play well in the blue states and with independent voters. 

The days when a GOP president wanted to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education are over.  Now, you have the opportunity to strengthen the Department, making it more efficient and better focused on the end result.  You have a team of advisors who understand data, how to use it, and the importance of measurement and assessment.  Take advantage of it.  Improve the system.  Reject the status quo.

And please, Senator, don’t lose sight of recc #1.  It may not be popular with some, but national standards are worth a good, long look.  Someone, some day is going to adopt national standards.  And it will result in a legacy many seek, but almost none achieve.

Just my three cents (inflation, after all).  Feel free to crib from, improve, or adopt wholesale.

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