Sen. John McCain’s education adviser, Lisa Graham Keegan, sat down today with several reporters for a rapid-fire Q-and-A session hosted by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and she laid out the most details yet about the Arizona Republican’s plans for the No Child Left Behind Act. And yes, a more formal education plan is coming, she said, but not until “back-to-school” time in the fall, when people are listening.
I’ll go into more detail in a bit, but I wanted to highlight two important things I thought Keegan said. First, McCain’s plan to freeze discretionary federal spending applies to education programs, including the largest program under the NCLB law, Title I. Though as president he may seek to re-allocate money between programs, McCain believes the NCLB law is “adequately funded,” Keegan said. So states and schools shouldn’t look for any additional federal dollars in a McCain budget.
Second, Keegan said that while the senator is a big supporter of vouchers and private and public school choice, he does not support using Title I money for private school vouchers. She didn’t rule out that he would not come up with some sort of private school choice plan, but this doesn’t seem to be a focus for him.
As far as other specific plans for NCLB, Keegan hit on three big themes. First, McCain supports using growth models to measure student achievement—but specifically wants to ensure that subgroups of students are making overall progress (and not just toward the goal of every child being proficient by the end of the 2013-14 school year.) For example, she said McCain wants to make sure gifted students are improving, too.
McCain also wants to move away from sanctions and instead use tutoring and public school choice as “opportunities” for children and families rather than as punishments for schools. And perhaps more importantly, he wants to make the aid available to families immediately without waiting two or three years. And maintaining the current sanction of restructuring schools at five years if they are failing to meet adequate yearly progress isn’t a priority for him, either. In addition, McCain will work more closely with governors to come up with other options for addressing failing schools, she said.
McCain also wants to move away from the 2014 proficiency deadline, as many other education advocates support.
In defending McCain’s perceived lack of interest in education, Keegan said that it wasn’t because the candidate is not passionate—but because he believes a “renaissance” in education is possible and that his plan will be more meaningful, and more at odds with the current public education system. (Update: Margaret Spellings declared that education was not McCain’s passion.)
“It’s very easy to write a detailed program for an old system,” Keegan said in criticizing Sen. Barack Obama’s plan, which has been on his Web site for months.
As far as McCain’s education plan to be unveiled in the fall, Keegan said it will focus on standards, accountability, delivering information on these issues to the public, and more direct intervention. He will “insist” on giving principals the power to use differential pay for teachers. And, expect the issue of international benchmarking to appear in his plan, too, she said.