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Fixing Schools

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The Unseen Enemy
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Obama Vs. McCain On Education

By James Donahue

Both candidates agree that the Bush No Child Left Behind program needs a lot of fixing since it has left America’s public education system in a shambles. But they have somewhat different plans for getting the job done.

The heart of the McCain plan involves freedom of choice for parents between private, public, charter, parochial or even home schools and competition among the schools for excellence. He believes this kind of environment will draw better teachers and make schools more accountable. He does not believe parents need to be bound to send children into schools that are poorly run or are unsafe.

McCain calls for a reform of the No Child Left Behind program, addressing underlying cultural problems instead of testing for accountability. He supports more local control of school funding, calls for merit pay for teachers that prove themselves, and wants to see a reform of the head start programs. But he offers no increase in federal dollars to schools to do any of this. He calls, instead on local taxpayers to approve voted tax dollars for any educational improvement.

McCain does propose $500 million for developing and building new virtual schools and developing online courses for students, and a continuation of grant dollars to help gifted students go to college.. “These would not be new funds for education, they would be current funds diverted for this purpose,” he said..

In other words, McCain plans no new expenditure of federal money for education in America if he is elected to office.

The Obama plan is very different. He sees the basic problem with the No Child Left Behind program as a lack of financial support to help schools meet the standards it calls for. He and Biden also say teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to pass tests. They want to improve the way student progress is tracked and support schools that need help instead of punishing them.

Obama and Biden plan to double finance the Federal Charter School Program to promote the creation of more successful charter schools, but call for closing low-performing charter schools. They want to recruit math and science degree graduates into the teaching profession and make these subjects a national priority. They also have a plan for recruiting more graduate students into the teaching profession, support college initiatives, and develop programs that encourage students to remain in school rather than drop out.

The Obama plan would create a new American Opportunity Tax Credit, ensuring that the first $4,000 of a college education is free for most Americans, thus helping make college affordable for everybody.

Obama and Biden also want to expand early Head Start and Head Start programs and launch a Zero to Five plan that will offer support to all young children and their parents. This plan would range from quality child care to early education.