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School Choice & Charters

John McCain Talks a Good Game on School Choice

By Michele McNeil — September 05, 2008 1 min read

For a guy who came late to the game with an education policy plan, Sen. John McCain seemed to talk longer about education than Sen. Barack Obama did during his acceptance speech.

But what really stood out about McCain’s speech was that he portrayed school choice as the bedrock of his education plan. But it’s really not. McCain’s education policy plan is far more complex as it tackles the issues of teacher quality, accountability, and school technology, and although choice does have a role, it’s a limited one.

In that regard, McCain’s school choice rhetoric is disconnected from his policy proposals.

In his acceptance speech, he said:

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them. Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children will have that opportunity.

That’s similar to what he said to the NAACP in Cincinnati, when he pledged “school choice for all who want it.”

But he hasn’t explained how the federal government would operate such school choice programs. What’s more, in June, his chief education and adviser, Lisa Graham Keegan, told reporters that McCain doesn’t want to use Title I money for private school vouchers.

What McCain’s education plan calls for is a continuation of the existing District of Columbia voucher program. And, he says he supports choice within No Child Left Behind (but even there he’s vague, and seems to support making the existing parental choices of tutoring and public-school transfers available to parents earlier.) It doesn’t explain how to offer school choice for “all who want it.”

As I was watching cable TV network coverage last night, at least two commentators held up his school choice rhetoric as an example of how he’s telling the GOP what it wants to hear. And one pointed out that McCain’s line about “education is the civil rights issue of this century” is a carbon copy of a President Bush line from 2000.

Of course, school choice makes for better speech material than ideas like accountability, data, and technology.

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