As many of us have known for much of the past two years, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is all about change. His approach to education reform is no different. It is a diverse strategy, like his base of supporters, and reflects a message of change from some of the traditional Democratic education planks.
The Bumper Sticker
We have a real problem with public education in the United States. We are underfunding No Child Left Behind, or “No Child Left Behind Left the Money Behind.” It is harder and harder to keep new teachers in the classroom. And college is too expensive for the average Joe (even if he isn’t from Scranton, PA).
Obama-Biden’s education platform operates under four key areas — early childhood education, K-12, teachers, and higher education.
Early Childhood Education
Obama’s early ed efforts are programmatically focused, in an effort to reach as many preschoolers as possible:
* Zero to Five Plan, focusing on early care and infant education; would offer Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote state efforts and help move to state-led universal preschool
* Expanded Early Head Start and Head Start, calling for a 4X funding increase in Early Head Start and improving the quality of both programs
* Affordable, high-quality child care
Obama’s K-12 plan is a relative top eight list of the top buzz issues in education reform today:
* Reform No Child Left Behind, through increased funding and improving assessment and accountability
* Support high-quality schools and close low-performing charter schools, doubling the funding for the Federal Charter School Program and improving general accountability for charters
* Make math and science education a national priority, by recruiting and supporting strong math and science teachers
* Address the dropout crisis, through federal funding for middle school intervention strategies
* Expand high-quality afterschool opportunities, by doubling funding for the 21st Century Learning Centers program
* Support college outreach programs, lending support to GEAR UP, TRIO, and Upward Bound
* Support college credit initiatives, creating a “Make College a Reality” initiative to increase AP-going by 50% by 2016
* Support English language learners, through transitional bilingual education and general school accountability
Recruit, Prepare, Retain, and Reward America’s Teachers
With Obama-Biden, the classroom teacher is clearly the center of the movement. (And don’t forget it is Biden’s wife’s career of choice):
* Recruit teachers, by creating a new Teacher Service Scholarship program to pay for four years of undergrad or two years of grad school in teacher education
* Prepare teachers, requiring all ed schools to be accredited and to create a voluntary national performance assessment of teacher training
* Retain teachers, expanding mentoring programs that pair vets with newbie teachers
* Reward teachers, allowing teachers a seat at the table in developing incentive programs and providing better pay for those in underserved location and those with a consistent record of success (read: merit pay)
Obama touched on higher ed in K-12, as he looked at college prep issues such college outreach and dual credit, but his platform also includes the following:
* Create the American Opportunity Tax Credit, ensuring the first $4,000 of a college education is “completely free for most Americans”
* Simplify the application process for financial aid, streamlining the process and authorizing the feds to use tax returns automatically as part of the system
There you have it. The full Obama-Biden education platform as presented on the official Obama-Biden campaign website. Available now to lay side-by-side with McCain-Palin to compare, contrast, and critique. Three pages of total text on the site, along with three downloadable plans (PreK-12 Plan, College Affordability Plan, and Education Reform Plan) and two speeches (one on PreK to 12 education, one on college affordability). And before I hear it from readers, I know there are many more issues Obama and his surrogates have been talking about. Remember, folks, this is intended to look at the official plans, as offered up by the official websites of the candidates.
So what’s Eduflack’s takeaway?
* A clear understanding of the issues and concerns of the education community, particularly those seen by teachers and school leaders. This is the ed community hotlist, particularly in K-12
* A stronger-than-strong emphasis on programs, both support of the old and calls for many, many new
* A significant increase in federal funding for education issues
* A focus on the processes that make education systems go
* Emphasis on the student and the school level
* An attempt to improve NCLB, particularly when it comes to funding
What’s missing? There is little talk, other than some rhetorical mentions, to the need for standards and accountability in the schools. It seems to be process over results. And Obama’s previously strong stance on merit pay for teachers is weakly positioned in this policy. Discussions of issues such as reading instruction, education research, vouchers, parental involvement, alternative certification, elementary schools, and online learning can’t be found. Again, we can guess where an Obama administration would stand on these issues, based on his personal bio and the good work of his education team, but it isn’t spelled out.
So there you have it, the Obama-Biden education platform, in an equally handy format. Tomorrow, we put our agitator hat back on and take a close look at how the two campaigns stack up against each other, educa
tion wise, and what are remaining unanswered questions may be.