With the presidential election just a year away, it’s hard to know which way is up when it comes to the candidates and education issues. In the 1996 race for the White House, Democrats championed national standards and more funding for education, while Republicans wanted to test teachers and abolish the Department of Education. This year they’ve switched roles, with the leading Republican contenders supporting de facto national standards and more federal school spending on schools. As for the Democrats, Al Gore wants to test teachers every five years, and Bill Bradley is flirting with a typically conservative solution to troubled public schools-vouchers. Confused? Here’s what you need to know about the men who would be president:
George W. Bush
High school: Phillips Academy (private), Andover, Massachusetts; class of 1964.
Occupation: Two-term governor of Texas.
What he’s done for education: Abolished social promotion in Texas public schools. Boosted teacher pay. Championed statewide early literacy program. Expanded after-school programs for middle school students in high-risk areas.
Views: Backs vouchers as a measure of last resort. Supports local control of education reform, but state and federal testing of the results.
As president, he promises to: Provide $1,500 private school vouchers to students at failing Title I schools. Turn Head Start into an early-childhood-education program run by the U.S. Department of Education.
Sound bite: “Some say it is unfair to hold disadvantaged children to rigorous standards. I say it is discrimination to require anything less-the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Close to home: Husband of a former librarian and elementary school teacher. Son of the self- proclaimed “education president.” Sends his twin daughters to public high school.
Malcolm S. “Steve” Forbes
High school: Brooks School (private), North
Andover, Massachusetts; class of 1966.
Occupation: Publisher, president, and CEO of Forbes Inc., and editor in chief of Forbes magazine.
Views: Supports vouchers, increased home schooling, and posting the Ten Commandments in public schools. Believes textbooks discussing evolution are a “massive fraud.” Recently called on black religious leaders to start more faith-based schools.
Sound bite: “In our inner cities, why not have parental control of the schools instead of the bureaucracies we have in too many districts today? If you don’t have parental control, you’re never going to fundamentally reform the schools in the inner cities.”
Close to home: Father of five daughters, the youngest of whom attends middle school. (Forbes campaign officials wouldn’t reveal whether it is public or private.)
High school: Episcopal High (private), Alexandria, Virginia; class of 1954.
Occupation: U.S. senator from Arizona.
What he’s done for education: Required software filters in federally funded education technology programs to keep out Internet pornography. Sponsored the “Troops to Teachers” program to expand efforts to help military personnel become teachers. Voted for $150 million dropout-prevention program in 1998. Introduced legislation to use more than $5 billion in government subsidies to pay for $2,000 private school vouchers.
Views: Supports vouchers. Endorses bilingualism, saying, “No one should have to abandon the language of their birth to learn the language of their future.”
Sound bite: “There’s no reason on earth that a good teacher should be paid less than a bad senator.”
Close to home: McCain often laments that he didn’t study hard enough in school and finished fifth from the bottom in his Naval Academy graduating class. He has seven children, ages 8 to 39; the youngest four attend private school in Phoenix.
High school: Crystal City High (public), Crystal City, Missouri; class of 1961.
Occupation: Full-time presidential candidate. Former three-term U.S. senator from New Jersey and professional basketball player.
What he’s done for education: Helped create the Javits federal program to support gifted and talented education, as well as programs to support science and technology education for minorities.
Views: Supports national standards, professional development for teachers. Backed experimental school choice plan while in the Senate but recently opposed Republican George W. Bush’s plan for federal vouchers.
As president, he promises to: Spend $2.6 billion a year to provide child care and early education for working families. Hold teachers accountable for student performance.
Sound bite: "[In the 21st century,] we’re not just going to have to have education K-12. We’re going to have to have lifetime education, and we’re going to have to have the institutions in place so that all Americans will be able to take advantage of that.”
Close to home: Son of an elementary school teacher. Father of one college-age daughter.
Albert Gore Jr.
High school: St. Albans, the National Cathedral School for Boys (private), Washington, D.C.; class of 1965.
Occupation: Two-term vice president of the United States. Former U.S. senator from Tennessee.
What he’s done for education: Spearheaded move to get $2 billion in federal “E-rate” discounts on Internet costs for schools and libraries.
Views: Supports testing teachers every five years in a recertification process. “No teaching license should be a lifetime job guarantee,” he once said.
As president, he promises to: Offer universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds. Fundamentally change the American high school by making schools and classes smaller. Improve teacher quality by encouraging merit-pay schemes and mentors for new teachers. Turn around failing schools by expanding summer school and reducing Hispanic dropout rates. Adopt a national school focus on discipline, character, values, safety, and parental involvement.
Sound bite: “I believe teachers should be treated like professionals-I want to improve teacher quality and lift up America’s teachers.”
Close to home: Father of four children, the youngest of whom attends private high school.
High school: Gonzaga College High (Catholic), Washington, D.C.; class of 1956.
Occupation: Political commentator and newspaper columnist. Formerly worked in the Reagan and Nixon administrations.
Views: Supports vouchers. Opposes national testing and national teaching standards.
As president, he promises to: Abolish the Education Department, allow voluntary prayer in classrooms, and ban multicultural curricula.
Sound bite: “Not one federal dime should go to perpetuate bilingualism. We look forward to a day when there are no ‘hyphenated Americans.’”
Close to home: Buchanan studied history and politics partly to survive grueling academic question-and-answer sessions with his father at dinner.
The author is a Washington, D.C.-based writer.