My friends (sorry, can’t resist), despite popular opinion, U.S. Sen. John McCain does indeed have a comprehensive education platform, and it is a plan that clearly reflects the collective experiences and perspectives of the senior staffers advising the McCain-Palin campaign on education policy.
The Bumper Sticker
McCain-Palin’s education platform operates under a simple mission — “Excellence, Choice, and Competition in American Education.” It pledges to four key educational points:
* American education must be worthy of the promise we make to our children and ourselves
* We are a nation committed to equal opportunity, and there is no equal opportunity without equal access to excellent education
* We must fight for the ability of all students to have access to all schools of demonstrated excellence, including their own homes
* We must place parents and children at the center of the educational process, empowering parents to greatly expanding their ability to choose a school for their children.
The McCain-Palin campaign breaks its education platform into three key areas — early childhood education, strengthening America’s schools, and higher education policy. The latter two were actually offered as media releases during the summer (though I don’t remember reading much, if any, about either of them).
Early Childhood Education
The early childhood component is focused on the notion that we must “make certain students are ready to learn.” With an emphasis on a range of high-quality programs that focus on educational foundations in reading, math, social, and emotional skills. The further highlights:
* Centers for Excellence in Head Start — Ensuring that all Head Start centers have quality instructors, are accountable to parents, and focus on outcomes instead of just processes. The federal director of Head Start would choose at least one Center in each state, and the state’s governor would nominate potential choices. Such centers would be expected to expand their services to reach more students, doing so with an extra $200,000 in funding from the feds. For these centers, the name of the game is results, with a demand for clear goals, clear objectives, and even clearer effective practice.
* Measurable Standards — Every federally funded early childhood program should be held to measurable standards, quality measures that “should be centered on the child and outcome-based.”
* Quality Instruction — Early childhood education is about preparing students for K-12 instruction. Every early ed instruction should have strong preparation with “an emphasis on performance and outcomes as measured by student development.” All federally funded preK programs would be required to offer a “comprehensive approach to learning that covers all significant areas of school readiness, notably literacy/language development, as well as math readiness and key motor and social skills.”
* Healthy Children — Advocating partnership grants for early screening programs for hearing, vision, and immunization needs of preschoolers.
* Parental Education and Involvement — McCain-Palin would ensure federal programs focus on educating parents how to prepare their kids for a “productive educational experience.” Parents would be schooled in reading and numbers skills, nutrition, and general health issues.
Strengthening America’s Schools
Focusing on opportunities and a quality education for all students, the McCain-Palin plan focuses on empowering parents, teachers, and leaders while taking a swipe at the traditional educational bureaucracy.
McCain’s K-12 policy is comprised of four key principles:
* Enact meaningful reform to education
* Provide for equality of choice
* Empower parents
* Empower teachers
More specifics then come in the dozen or so specific policies McCain offers to support these principles:
* Build on the lessons of NCLB, continuing the national emphasis on standards and accountability
* Provide effective education leadership, particularly rewarding achievement
* Ensure children have quality teachers, accomplished by:
– Encouraging alternative certification methods that open the door for highly motivated teachers to enter the field
– Providing bonuses for teachers who locate in underperforming schools and demonstrate strong leadership as measured by student improvement
– Providing funding for needed professional teacher development
* Empowering school principals with greater control over spending, focusing principal decisions on doing what is necessary to raise student achievement
* Making real the promise of NCLB by giving parents greater choice, choice over how school money is being spent
* Expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, better known as DC’s voucher system
* Ensuring children struggling to meet state standards will have immediate access to high-quality tutoring programs, made available from the LEAs, the feds, or private providers
* Expanding virtual learning by reforming the “Enhancing Education Through Technology Program,” providing $500 million to develop virtual K-12 schools
* Allocating $250 million through a competitive grant program to support states that commit to expanding online education opportunities, offering a path for states to establish virtual math and science academies
* Offering $250 million for Digital Passport Scholarships to help students pay for online tutors to enroll in virtual schools, offering competitive funds to provide low-income students greater access to a range of courses and programs needed to maximize opportunity
Higher Education Policy
Focusing on innovation, the reduction of regulatory barriers, and a shared need that our economic strength depends on strong postsecondary education, the McCain-Palin team calls for the following in higher education policy:
* Improve information for parents, particularly institutional i
nformation on postsecondary choices
* Simplify higher education tax benefits, connecting a lower tax burden to greater pursuit of higher education
* Simplify federal financial aid, consolidating the financial aid process
* Improve research by eliminating earmarks, tying the campaign’s signature anti-pork barrel spending to boosting the funds available for federally funded research programs
* Fix the student lending programs, expanding capacity and demanding high levels of lender activity.
There you have it. The full McCain-Palin education platform, as presented on the official McCain-Palin campaign website. Six total pages of text. So what’s Eduflack’s takeaway?
* A strong focus on accountability and standards
* Emphasis on core instructional approaches and needs
* Recognition that improvement comes with parents, kids, and teachers working together
* Significant focus on innovations, specifically virtual education, alternative certification, and school choice
* An effort to place results over process
* An attempt to learn from and move beyond NCLB, not fix the federal law
What’s missing? Discussions of issues such as ELL/ESL, student testing, national standards, STEM education, high school dropout rates, and teacher education. But we can surmise from the policy ideas above where the McCain administration would stand on some, if not all of these issues.
So there you have it, the McCain-Palin education platform, in a handy email/pocket-sized guide. Senator Obama, you’re up tomorrow.