Vice President Al Gore has mapped out an education agenda that, perhaps not surprisingly, closely resembles President Clinton’s ideas on teacher quality.
In what many termed his first major policy address of the 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Gore stressed the need for more teachers, more frequent licensing tests, and stronger discipline measures in schools during a May 16 commencement speech at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.
“We must improve teacher quality and elevate the teaching profession by setting high standards for teachers and giving them intensive support,” he said. “This whole process must begin with respect, honor, and appreciation for America’s teachers.”
The speech offered a glimpse at Mr. Gore the candidate at a time when his campaign has come under criticism in some quarters as lacking focus. The vice president stopped at Graceland College during a two-day sweep of Iowa, the site of the first presidential caucuses. The trip also included the opening of a Gore campaign office in Des Moines.
Although Mr. Gore has not yet officially announced his candidacy for the 2000 Democratic nomination, the vice president has had a hand in several prominent education events in recent weeks. In well-publicized appearances, he has named recipients of federal after-school grants, announced school improvement funding for California at a White House ceremony, and unveiled an initiative--Boost4kids--that would cut federal and state bureaucracy and work with community groups to better provide health and education services to needy children. In a controversial move, he also announced results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress earlier this year.
The vice president also visited Charlestown High School in Massachusetts on May 17 to further discuss his ideas.
Under Mr. Gore’s proposal unveiled May 16, new teachers would face tough tests to enter the field, then be retested every five years to renew their licenses.
The ideas resemble plans promoted by President Clinton, as well as by some congressional Republicans, who plan to release teacher-quality legislation of their own near the end of this month. And teacher quality and training will be an integral part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this year.
In Iowa, Mr. Gore proposed a “21st Century Teacher Corps” plan, under which aspiring teachers would receive a $10,000 scholarship or a $10,000 bonus if they were switching careers or if they promised to teach in needy schools.
The Gore plan drew immediate criticism last week from Lamar Alexander, the former Bush administration secretary of education who is campaigning for the Republican nomination for president.
“His proposals all add up to a national school board,” Mr. Alexander said in a statement. “Instead, we need to send federal dollars back to local school boards, parents, and teachers to let them decide what is best for students.”
But the American Federation of Teachers praised Mr. Gore’s agenda. “At a time when many political leaders are engaged in teacher bashing, Vice President Gore has praised the difficult job teachers are doing and our important role in building America’s future,” Sandra Feldman, the president of the 1 million-member AFT, said in a statement. “These proposals build on the progress we are seeing in schools where high standards and professional support are in place today.”
Mr. Gore also called for more discipline and character education in schools, smaller classes and smaller high schools, expanded tax-exempt savings accounts for college tuition, and high-quality preschool for every child.
A version of this article appeared in the May 26, 1999 edition of Education Week as Gore Stumps in Iowa With Focus on Education Themes