Education Chat

Education and the Election: A Preview

Education Week reporters David Hoff and Alyson Klein answer your questions about what the candidates have said about education and how the election’s outcome may affect the most pressing K-12 issues before the nation.

October 29, 2008

Education and the Election: A Preview

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  • David J. Hoff is an associate editor for Education Week. His blog, NCLB: Act II, covers news on the No Child Left Behind Act and its renewal.
  • Alyson Klein is a staff writer for Education Week. She also blogs for Campaign K-12,’s blog on what the candidates are saying about education.

Jennifer Neidenberg (Moderator):

Good afternoon, and welcome to’s Live Chat. Joining us live are Education Week reporters David Hoff and Alyson Klein, who have reported, blogged, and even “Twittered” throughout the presidential campaign. They will be answering your questions about what the candidates have said about education and how the election’s outcome may affect the most pressing K-12 issues before the nation. I’m Jennifer Neidenberg, an online producer at Education Week, and I’ll be moderating this discussion with our two reporters, both of whom have a unique background and perspective on education and the presidential campaign. We’re already getting a tremendous number of questions for this chat, so let’s get right to them.

Question from Sandra Justice, Data Coordinator, Russell County Public Schools:

What changes do you anticipate for NCLB?

David Hoff:

I think I have a better idea of what won’t change in the law.

I think NCLB will keep its framework of setting standards, giving tests based on those standards, and judging schools primarily based on those tests’ results. It also will set the goal of improving the quality of teachers.

I know the particulars around those issues will change; some of the details could change dramatically. But it’s too early to tell how extensive those changes will be, let alone exactly what they’ll be. Question from robin, teacher assistant head start:

What are the views learning begins in the preschool years? What can I expect for the next four years for education in grants? What are the candidates opinion on Head Start?

Alyson Klein:

Both candidates have expressed general support for the Head Start program. Sen. Obama has proposed increasing spending on early childhood education by $10 billion a year, including new federal money for home visitation programs for at-risk mothers, as well as grants to states for pre-K programs. Sen. McCain has said that the Head Start program needs to be “reformed” since, in his view, many Head Start students aren’t further along than other students once they start school. He’s proposed holding programs accountable for getting kids prepared for school. But, he has expressed support for bringing Head Start teachers’ pay closer in line with their K-12 counterparts.

Question from Sue Kelewae Instructor, Educ.,Kent State Univ.:

Teaching pre-service teachers who will be going into public school classrooms in a few years, 1. what do they most need to know about NCLB? 2. How do the candidates see the future of educ. funding? they (candidates) have a clear understanding of the NCLB law and if so, what do they intend to do regarding reauthorization? How? When? Why?

David Hoff:

To answer each question.

1.) Teachers need to know that NCLB judges school performance based primarily on the test scores of students. If schools don’t keep pace with the goals states set, they have to take steps to improve, whether by offering school choice, free tutoring, or taking more dramatic steps.

2.) Sen. McCain wants to freeze total discretionary funding, which is where most federal K-12 money comes from. He has hinted he would increase money for special education, but such increases would have to be offset elsewhere (but not necessarily in education). Sen. Obama has proposals to increase funding in several areas (particularly in early childhood education). He has said NCLB hasn’t been given enough money. But he hasn’t been specific about how much he would fund NCLB or other existing programs.

3.) The candidates have given some general ideas about how they would approach NCLB reauthorization. But neither of them has a comprehensive proposal explaining what they would do with the law. And neither has said it would be an immediate priority. Question from Bridget Kozar, Principal, PA Virtual Charter School:

What are the presidential candidates views about virtual education? They both talk about charter schools. Do they truly believe in school choice when it comes to virtual schooling?

Alyson Klein:

Sen. John McCain has proposed a new investment in virtual schools, including money to help develop programs and scholarships to help low-income students take online courses. Sen. Obama hasn’t really addressed the issue much on the campaign trail. But his campaign did issue a statement in response to McCain’s plan, saying that it can be hard for the government to oversee virtual schools.

Question from Ann-Marie Clark, Sr. Director Public Sector, CDW-G:

How will technology purchases be impacted as a result of the election(s) from both local/state and federal perspective? When should we begin to realize any changes?

David Hoff:

I don’t think the election of either Sen. McCain or Sen. Obama would dramatically change technology purchases. The economic conditions will have a bigger impact than anything the federal government does.

One small note: Sen. McCain wants to freeze federal discretionary spending. That would probably mean that increases in technology spending would be less likely in a McCain administration than an Obama administration. But I wouldn’t expect big increases from Obama. He hasn’t talked about it as a priority. Question from Deborah Stephenson, Teacher/Parent, Friendly Senior High:

What is Senator Obama going to do to better special education?

Alyson Klein:

That’s a great question. Sen. Obama doesn’t seem to have a section in his education plan relating specifically to special education, although he does have some ideas on teacher training and extending learning time that I’m assuming would apply to all kids. You can see if you can find more in his plan

Question from Ann Nichols, PMD Teacher, West Florence High School:

I’ve heard from both candidates from the major parties that autism is an area of interest for them, given the rise in numbers and recommendations for early intervention.I’d like to ask what other areas of disability are of interest to the candidates, and what are their specific proposals for special education? When will we have a reduction in paperwork?

David Hoff:

Sen. McCain brought up autism several times in one of the debates. Other than that, neither he nor Sen. Obama has discussed the issue of special education much and neither of them has a specific proposal to change or improve special education.

Question from Brian Cory, Vice Principal, Tenafly High School, Tenafly NJ:

How has either Presidential candidate communicated his understanding of the whole child - balancing academic with social emotional development, including mental health?

Alyson Klein:

Sen. McCain doesn’t have anything in his education plan specifically addressing social and emotional development. Sen. Obama doesn’t extensively address the issue either, but he does have a plan to offer home visits from registered nurses to mothers of at-risk children. And he has a plan to encourage schools to adopt Positive Behavior Support plans to deal with discipline problems.

Question from glenn youngen,government, buckeye Career Center:

What new non-traditional vocational programs are being encouraged by the education experts for both candidates?

David Hoff:

Neither campaign includes much about vocational education in its proposals. Sen. McCain gave a speech in which he talked about using community colleges to do so. But I wouldn’t expect the next president to make vocational education a priority.

Question from Cheryl A. Jones, Principal BCPS:

Will we ever move to an individual growth model to measure the individual, yearly growth of students vs. the current model that we use to measure the overall school performance?

Alyson Klein:

The Department of Education already allows all states to participate in the growth model pilot project and most folks in Congress - Democrats and Republicans - agree that growth models are likely to be included in reauthorization no matter who is president. Sen. Barack Obama expressed support for growth models in his education plan and McCain’s top education adviser, Lisa Graham Keegan, has also said they are a good idea.

Question from Carmen Redding:

What are candidates going to do to support teachers other than fire the ones that are not doing a good job? It seems that all we get is the blame, but nothing constructive has been said about how teachers can be helped to do a better job.

David Hoff:

Sen. Obama has a long list of things he’d like to do. He wants to establish teacher academies; offer tax credits to those who agree to pursue teaching as a career; and create financial incentives for teachers who teach in high-need subjects (such as math and science) or hard-to-staff schools. He also would experiment with new forms of teacher pay that he believes would encourage teachers to improve their skills and results.

Sen. McCain doesn’t have quite as broad of an agenda. He would change existing federal programs to allow for experimental pay and support alternative forms of teachers certification.

I don’t think either candidate has any programs that would require bad teachers to be fired. But both have said they believe that should happen. Sen. McCain has been more forceful in saying that than Sen. Obama. Question from Joseph W. Buckley Jr. Science and Technology Curriculum Liaison Worcester Public Schools MA:

What are the candidates offering to do in support of Urban STEM education in the areas of funding staff, infrastructure, capital equipment and consumables needed to support an improved educational environment and promote increased underserved student participation?

Alyson Klein:

Neither candidate has specifically and extensively addressed the needs of urban schools with regard to science, math, technology and engineering. Sen. Obama has a plan to offer teacher service scholarships, and would prioritize math and science teachers in distributing them. And be would like to work with states to improve assessments for science. Sen. McCain has said he’d like to build “virtual math and science academies” to expand the availability of AP Math, Science, and Computer Science classes.

Question from Dr. Kunhammad, Lecturer, University of Sharjah, UAE:

Is it realistic to expect positive change in the NCLB approach in the first 4 years considering the whole gamut of economic issues besetting the nation at the moment?

David Hoff:

I expect that Congress and the next president will change NCLB in the next four years. Everyone believes the law needs changing and has a list of things to do. How dramatic those changes will be depends on who is elected president and who the members of the next Congress are. Still, it looks right now that economic and foreign policy issues will take precedent over NCLB and other education matters.

Question from Terri Postlethwait, SDE, Inc.:

The NCLD website has a chart comparing the candidates’ stance on several education issues. One they both agree on is that SPED needs to be fully funded. We’ve heard that before but have yet to see it happen. What specifically will each candidate do to make sure this happens? And, how will it be monitored and enforced?

Alyson Klein:

Even though representatives from both campaigns have expressed support for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - it doesn’t look like the money is going to be available, no matter who wins, at least in the first few years.

Question from Don Blagsvedt, Science Education Consultant:

I recently listened to the educational debate between Linda Darling-Hammond and Mccain’s educational advisor, whose name escapes me at this point. Although I have never voted Republican in my life, and greatly respect the work of Dr. Hammond, I did find her comments on educational change somewhat disingenious and based very much on a top down model. What we know, is top down models do not work, much like trickle down economics. Top down models do not change belief systems. There is simply not enough vision, intelligence, and courage in the present structure of public schools to implement the reforms needed on a national basis.

My question is this: With the probable election of Obama, Do you see a window of possiblity for having a national conversation about the status of education, that essentially , has as a underlying assumption, we need to start all over again, especially in our urban schools. NO Child Left Behind was in no way a national conversation. It was a model forced upon a malleable educational system that did not have the vision to put forth another model that matches how students learns. Quite honestly as someone who has been involved in educational reform for two decades I do not see the evidence that with the present culture in schools, this is either the leadership or the political will to start over again. Even among the brighter folks, say in staff development, they tend to be lanaguage arts people, not content people, so they tend to accept the embedded values of focusing on skils instead of context. David Hoff:

Education hasn’t been an important topic of conversation during this campaign for the presidency. That’s been true since the start of the primary season. Given that, I don’t foresee the next president dedicating a lot of time or energy to the issue. I don’t think it’s likely that our country will be having a debate over starting all over again on education.

Question from Cliff Brush; Sr. Proj. Mgr., Office of Supt.; Portland, OR, Public Schools:

Who are Sen. McCaina and Sen. Obama’s primary advisors on education policy?

Alyson Klein:

Sen. McCain’s top education adviser is Lisa Graham Keegan, who Arizona schools chief and once headed the Education Leaders Council, which was seen as a conservative alternative to the Council of Chief State School Officers. His other top adviser on schools is Phil Handy, who chaired the Florida State Board of Education during Gov. Jeb Bush’s tenure. Obama’s advisers include a broad range of Democrats on the education policy spectrum, including education researcher Linda Darling-Hammond, widely considered an expert on teacher training issues; Mike Johnston and Jon Schnur, who started New Leaders for New Schools, which trains urban principals; Chris Edley, who works on civil rights issues and signed on to the Aspen Commission’s report on the future of NCLB. Both also have a wide range of other advisers but those are some of the most visible.

Question from Vern Pickup-Crawford, Legislative Liaison, Palm Beach County, Florida:

While both use NAEP data decrying US rankings, it is rarely mentioned that the countries to which we’re measured all have national curricula and assessment--not state-based--and none has the cultural diversity of the US nor considers special education students in their assessments....exactly how do they propose national standards when education in the US is a state responsibility?

David Hoff:

Neither Sen. Obama nor Sen. McCain are proposing national standards precisely for the reason you state at the end of your question: They see it as a state responsibility. But watch a few things closely:

1.) A coalition of states, led by the group Achieve Inc., is supporting the development of common standards. That may organically grow into something that resembles national standards that states voluntary adopt.

2.) In NCLB reauthorization, some members of Congress want to set up a process for states to compare their standards against what’s expected on NAEP and in other countries. This wouldn’t create national standards, but it would compare each state’s standards against a national benchmark and other country’s standards. Question from Malissa Scherer, Library Media Specialist, Columbus (Ohio) City Schools:

The SKILLS Act would require a certified library media specialist in every public school building. The act was introduced in both the House and the Senate in the summer of 2007. Would Obama and/or McCain actively support this addition to NCLB? What is the likelihood that this act would pass?

David Hoff:

I don’t know where either candidate stands on the SKILLS Act. I don’t know how likely it will be to land in the reauthorized NCLB. Lots of different things may be included in the bill. The key for any new program will be to find funding, and that’s going to be very difficult to do given the current budget situation.

Question from Patty McLaughlin, Student, Lynchburg College, Virginia:

I would definitely like to see a reorganization of NCLB. I am a college student majoring in Special Education and I am a Mom with two teenagers in High school. I witness my children spending way too much time studying for and taking standardized tests - some administered by the states and others administered by the county we live in. this leaves very little time for the teachers to enjoy teaching in the style that best suits them and the students. What will the presidential candidates do to readdress the standards of learning (assessments) so that teachers do not have to spend their days teaching to the test? What initiatives will the candidates take to allow teachers to have more flexibility in their teaching so that they can reintroduce the activities that engage and educate students making learning fun, rather than spend their time teaching students how to pass the state assessment standards?

David Hoff:

I think this is a case where it’s best to let you read what each candidate’s Web site says.

Here’s what Sen. McCain’s site says:

“John McCain Wwll build on the lessons of No Child Left Behind. There should be an emphasis on standards and accountability. However, our goal cannot be group averages. Instead, our focus should be to inspire every child to strive to reach his or her potential. While NCLB has been invaluable in providing a clear picture of which schools and students are struggling, it is only the beginning of education reform.”

And here’s what Sen. Obama’s site says:

“Obama and Biden will reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama and Biden believe teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama and Biden will also improve NCLB’s accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.” Question from Roel Ubungen, Science Teacher, Haller Middle School, Arlington, WA:

I’m pursuing National Board Certification (NBC) this school year. Our state lawmakers had recently passed legislation that rewards NBC teachers with a $5000 salary bonus (for 2007-2010). With the current state budget crunch, which of the two presidential candidates would continue to support such an incentive? Or is this matter totally in the hands of our next governor?

David Hoff:

Both candidates have plans to recruit new teachers and encourage them to work in hard-to-staff schools and to pay bonuses to teachers. Neither one has specifically mentioned giving extra pay for teachers who have the national board certification.

My guess is that the decision to continue paying bonuses based on certification will be controlled by state officials. Question from Norm Hutcherson, Senior Assistant Librarian, Cal State BAkersfield:

Given the state of the economy, what effect can we expect the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States to have on funding for teachers, schools, students, and communities at the individual school, school district, state, and federal levels? How would that perception change, if the Democrats win a fillibuster proof majority in the United States Senate?

Alyson Klein:

Sen. Obama has pledged to increase education spending by $18 billion a year. But, given the current financial crisis, many folks in Washington are skeptical that the federal government will have that kind of cash available. If he is elected, he many seek modest increases in education funding, but he probably just won’t have the resources to boost K-12 appropriations substantially - no matter what margin the Democrats are able to get in the Senate.

Question from Phyllis Scherrer, Teacer, Falk School:

I know that Senator Obama is opposed to NCLB. What is his alternative? Moreover, what are the reasons that he feels that it has not worked? Are the reasons for opposing it purely fiscal or are their reasons and attitudes about public education reflected in NCLB? Finally, being from Illinois, how does Obama feel about Charles Dewey?

Thanks! David Hoff:

Sen. Obama hasn’t said he is opposed to NCLB. He has endorsed the law’s goal of closing the achievement gap between minority and white students. And he has said that schools should be held accountable for improving student achievement.

But he has said that the law puts too much emphasis on multiple-choice testing and hasn’t received enough money from the federal government.

He has proposed offering money to help develop new tests that measure students’ higher-order thinking skills. He also would introduce more competition for public schools in the form of charter schools. But he hasn’t been any more specific than that in his proposals.

As for your final question, I don’t have an answer for that one. Question from Sarah Jones, Teacher, Milwaukee Public Schools:

Which candidate is more for education?

Alyson Klein:

That’s a subjective question. You will have to read their plans and records decide which best fits your view of a “pro-education” candidate. McCain’s education plan is available here and Obama’s is available here. You can also check Edweek’s voter’s guide comparing the candidates’ positions on key issues.

Question from Kathy Brown, Parent, Georgia:

NCLB provides funding for Title I schools for parent involvement(1%), and we know those parents are the least likely to have the resources to be involved with the education process, which is why the government made the allocations in the first place. Thus, why aren’t state mandated School Councils, which are inclusive of ALL parents in Georgia considered or recognized as “appropriate or adequate” means to fulfill that area of the NCLB mandate instead of districts spending Title I funds for additional parent/community/teacher groups, such as Action Teams to duplicate school councils? In our district Title I schools have action teams (the chair is a paid employee/parent of the school system) and school councils, but Title I schools are the least likely to have involved parents.

David Hoff:

It sounds as if the specific question you raise is unique to Georgia. I don’t know enough about your state program and how it operates to fully answer your question.

I would say that, Congress considers reauthorizing NCLB, you may want to let a member of Congress know about this issue. That would be the best way to advocate for changes that could make Title I’s parent involvement money work best in your state. Question from Sandra Justice, Data Coordinator, Russell County Public Schools:

How can veteran teachers get involved in educational reform (NCLB)?

David Hoff:

Nothing gets the attention of members of Congress like constituents talking to them or writing them about an issue. They pay attention when they start hearing the same message over and over again. That’s probably the best way to get involved.

Question from anonymous:

Has there been any speculation as to who each candidate is considering for Secretary of Education?

Alyson Klein:

That’s a great question. People have been speculating as to who it might be. McCain’s top education adviser, Lisa Graham Keegan, would no doubt be on his short list, as might former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, if he’s interested in the position. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation who blogs at Flypaper also mentioned former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. You can read his post here. I think both are good guesses. For Obama, a lot of folks have mentioned Arne Duncan, the superintendent of Chicago schools; Jim Hunt, the former governor of North Carolina; and Roy Roemer, the former governor of Colorado who also headed up ED in ‘08. Petrilli also guessed Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, who has been active on P-16 transition issues.

Question from anonymous:

How does Senator McCain feel about programs like Teach for America and Troops to Teachers? Are these programs likely to flourish should he win next week?

Alyson Klein:

Sen. McCain has expressed support for both programs and said he would like direct federal money to help recruit new teachers who complete programs like Teach For America. So, the short answer is, yes, both programs would likely win support from a potential McCain administration. It should be noted that Obama has some TFA alumns among his education advisers. You can read about it in David Hoff’s story here.

Question from anonymous:

Assuming the Democrats win as many seats in the House and Senate as predicted, how will NCLB fare with such a large majority? Is it more likely to be scrapped than revised as it might be in a less dramatic majority?

David Hoff:

That’s difficult to predict. People forget that many Democrats like NCLB’s emphasis on accountability. Two examples are Rep. George Miller of California and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Each are the chairman of their chamber’s legislative committee.

With large majorities in the Congress, the Democrats would have a significant debate over the scope of accountability. But I don’t think they would abandon it altogether. Question from Jerry Cantor, math teacher, Scranton, PA:

Is there any candidate for Congress running as an “education” candidate? Is there any room for education in the campaigns for Congress amid the economic focus of this election cycle?

Alyson Klein:

Education has definitely been overshadowed by economic issues and the war this year. But there are some races where it has been part of the conversation. I wrote a story about this about a week ago, check it out here.

Question from Carole Johnson, Principal, Broad Lake Elementary:

How does Senator Obama plan to proceed with his plans for expanding early education programs with the economic crisis looming so large? Will he still be able to create some sustainable momentum towards universal Pre-K?

David Hoff:

Sen. Obama hasn’t put forward a specific plan to finance his preK agenda in light of the latest economic news. In the debates, he said that he would work to keep his promises on education and argued that funding them would be smart even when the economy is struggling.

Question from Andrew Lawrence, Assessment Coordinator, Shaw County:

Senator Obama has mentioned including portfolios as a possible way to diversify and strengthen the way we assess our students. Is there any specific language in his education platform about those plans?

Alyson Klein:

Sen. Obama has said the assessments under No Child Left Behind have to be revamped to better measure critical thinking skills. It doesn’t sound, to me at least, that he would want portfolios to replace tests. I don’t see a specific mention of portfolios in his education plan, though. One of his advisers did mention them during an NPR interview last week, you can read all about the resulting conversation at Campaign K-12. The relevant entries are here and here.

Jennifer Neidenberg (Moderator):

Thanks for all the great questions, and many thanks to David Hoff and Alyson Klein for their time and insights. Unfortunately, we have more questions than time, so we’ll have to leave the discussion there, but you can read more of their analysis of education, the election, and the most pressing K-12 issues at their blog’s NCLB: Act II and Campaign K-12. A transcript of this chat will be available on Education Week’s Web site shortly:

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