From a business perspective, it’s critical that students in the United States receive a quality education and acquire 21st-century skills as the global marketplace becomes increasingly competitive. If these students aren’t prepared when they graduate from college, businesses will have to pick up where schools left off and teach the skills necessary to remain competitive.
Some in education argue that Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are too silent on this critical issue that impacts the economy, national security, global affairs and even environmental concerns, all of which are at the forefront of this year’s presidential campaign.
To gain a better understanding of the candidates’ views on education, the Teachers College at Columbia University hosted a debate between Linda Darling-Hammond, the education adviser for Obama, and Lisa Graham Keegan, McCain’s education adviser. Both argued that their respective candidates are talking about education, but the press isn’t reporting it.
The first question asked of Darling-Hammond was how Obama would differ from McCain as an education president.
“He has made the point that … to move forward in this country, one of the things we must do is invest in education because in this knowledge-based society and world, we don’t have any choice but to ensure that our kids are well-prepared for a time when most jobs that pay well require college or beyond,” she said.
Other countries “are pulling ahead of us mostly because we are running in place,” Darling-Hammond said. While the United States has fallen to 35th in the world in math and to 15th in terms of college access, she explained, other countries are providing early childhood education and health care for all children, investing in the quality of teachers and developing curricula and assessments that are directed at 21st-century skills. Darling-Hammond said Obama has proposed strategic investments in these areas.
In turn, Keegan was asked why McCain aligned himself with the efforts of New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein and the Rev. Al Sharpton and their Education Equality Project, a nonpartisan group of elected officials, civil rights leaders and education reformers that is working to ensure there is equality in the country’s educational system.
“The reason he finds [this project] so compelling is because it gets beyond Republican- Democrat politics,” she said. “It gets beyond whatever it is right now that is preventing us from making critical and urgent improvements in two major areas: the quality of teachers in high-needs schools and in the number of choices parents have for their kids.”
Keegan said McCain believes this project is the “most illustrative effort of where he thinks we have to go next.”
As for No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the education initiative enacted under President George W. Bush, Obama believes in the goals of the law, but he acknowledges there are problems with its implementation. Darling-Hammond said Obama questions the current accountability metric and believes the government needs to start looking at continuous progress. He also wants to see student assessments evaluating 21st-century skills, as other countries do.
McCain also is a strong supporter of the “aspiration” of NCLB, Keegan said, and he’s adamant that NCLB’s state standards and student assessments stay in place.
“Senator McCain’s belief is that one of the strongest features of No Child Left Behind that we did not have before is the ability to know how every school is doing,” she said.
This is just a small snapshot of the debate. For more information, visit http://www.edweek.org/ew/marketplace/webinars/webcast_ed_next_president_transcript.html.
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