A couple of months ago I posted outlines of Obama’s and Romney’s education plans. I promised then that I would update the posts closer to the election. So here we are. Both candidates have added a bit about education to their websites (though none of this was mentioned during any of the debates). To avoid repetition, please look at the prior posts in addition to this one. Let’s begin with President Obama. He has added two dimensions to his education plan:
1) Emphasize career-training by investing in community colleges. This is kind of a big deal. I am torn on how I feel about this because our country has a tendency to be so black and white about things. A shift to vocational training means a shift away from liberal arts and interdisciplinary education. On the one hand, I firmly believe that too many students are graduating from college with no applicable skills. These students have majored in History with a minor in Studio Art and have no idea what they want to do with their lives. That’s because they were too busy exploring and didn’t dedicate enough time trying their hand at different fields. There was a time in our history when the sole purpose of education was to prepare students for the workforce. With the advent of liberal arts schooling and the introduction of 21st century skills, we are now focusing more on students’ thinking skills instead of their working skills. As a result, we have some deep thinkers who are ill qualified to actually be productive members of the workforce. On the other hand, I am afraid we may lose out on the wonder that comes with deep thinking. We have a generation of students who understand the intricacies of social, economic, and political functioning nationally and globally. They get the ‘big picture’ and are passionate to effect change in their communities. They are excited to travel the world and learn more so they can figure out how to solve the world’s problems. There is value in such community-centric thinking. I don’t want to lose that.
2) Expanded the G.I. bill for Veterans. Living in a very military city, I’ve seen the direct results of this. I’ve personally met and communicated with members of the Air Force and Army who are presently taking advantage of the expanded bill. Some Officers are thrilled at the ability to transfer the bill to their children or spouses. Others are glad that the statute of limitations has been expanded so they have more time to go back to school. Some see it as a statement of faith in our country’s serviceman as more than protectors of our country, but also contributors to our country. I am always a fan of increasing access to education for segments of the population we have traditionally ignored or considered disinterested in education.
1) Require public schools to publish report cards of their yearly standardized test scores. Schools that are ‘failing’ will be shut down. Teachers that are ‘failing’ will be fired. I’ve commented multiple times on my feelings about so much emphasis placed on standardized tests (why the achievement gap has little to do with students, the miseducation of generations) instead of being placed on the teaching and learning process. The Governor says that by publishing school report cards, parents will have more information with which to make decisions about education for their kids. Now, like most of his rhetoric, this sounds good in theory. But how many of you can define a standard deviation? Or nominal and ordinal scales? Or p-value? Or standard error? Even more simply, how many of you know the scale score ranges of standardized tests? I am not sure who Governor Romney thinks will be able to interpret this data besides statisticians and those who use stats on a regular basis. The general public has no idea how to read test scores. Hell, most K-12 teachers don’t. Another façade of ‘access’ and ‘opportunity’ offered by Romney.
2) Give teachers salary boosts and grant money when they have good test scores. Governor Romney and President Obama agree here. Both of them are foolish to believe that financial incentives will increase teacher quality. All you are doing is forcing teachers to teach to the test. I mean, if you offered me money if all of my students got As, I would make damn sure they got As. Even if that meant lowering my standards, cheating (see my post on cheating), or doing nothing but test preparation all year. Which is exactly what happens.
3) Eliminate ‘unnecessary’ teacher certification requirements. Uhmmm, who decides what is necessary and unnecessary for a teacher to know and be able to do? I pray to God it is not YOU Governor. You who have never been a teacher at any level. You whose children went to private school. You who are a business man with very little understanding of the teaching and learning that happens in schools. I find it riotous that the Governor is firing teachers whose test scores are low, but is simultaneously advocating for lower teacher entry standards. He must really enjoy firing people. Perhaps that’s why he and Donald Trump get along so well.
4) Decrease regulations on public colleges. Currently, public college funding comes in part from state funds (see my post on why college costs so much). When any entity receives government funds, you also receive government rules. Romney would like to continue to give them government money, but decrease the rules they have to follow. Specifically, he wants colleges to be able to accept private money from businesses because in the long run, he thinks if their money comes from private businesses, then it won’t have to come from the government. This is true. But what he fails to mention (because of true ignorance or political deviance I don’t know), is that with private money comes private rules. These companies are not philanthropists; they want something in return. Colleges may become marketing vehicles, students may become guinea pigs/beta testers, teachers may become pawns used to disseminate a business’ latest curriculum designed to increase the quality of their prospective employment pool. The outcomes are endless; like Romney’s belief that privatization will magically improve education.
In essence, neither of these candidates is focused on improving teaching and learning. Both are more concerned with improving educational outcomes. President Obama wants more people to go to college (not necessarily graduate college) and have marketable skills. Governor Romney wants higher test scores on paper. At least President Obama’s plan will positively affect traditionally marginalized groups (most notably, students from low and middle class income families). Governor Romney’s plan will only benefit those already in the ‘know’, those with investments in the private sector, those who already have—the 53% of the country he deems deserving.