Linda Thomas has a reader blog in the PI on education and it can be very interesting (and funny). Today she posts about an initiative from - who else?- Bill and Melinda Gates and others on the candidates for President and their education stands. It's called Ed in '08 and here's a link to their site. Here are their 3 basic starting places for what needs to happen in American education:
American education standards
Regardless of where they live, all students need to acquire knowledge and skills that prepare them to be successful adults. From New Hampshire to Nevada, every student deserves a strong curriculum in subjects like math and English. Learn more.
Effective teachers in every classroom
We need to enable teachers to improve their skills, measure teachers’ performance in the classroom, and pay them more if they produce superior results or take on challenging assignments. Learn more.
More time and support for learning
We need to provide successful and struggling students alike more time for in-depth learning and greater personal attention. Learn more.
Okay, that sounds good. But, for example, when they speak of national standards, they say they don't mean national curriculum. However, if we have national standards but still have 50 different curriculums (with 50 different assessments), how do we, as a nation, know how our students are doing in any real and definitive way? That's one of the major flaws in NCLB and exposes that the administration is more interested in vast amounts of testing and not results because if they wanted to know how the kids are doing, we'd have one national test.
Ed in '08 never directly address NCLB so it's hard to know what they would want to hear from candidates. They provide links to all the candidates websites. I went to roughly 2/3 of them with interesting results. Out of 10, only 1 had more than a paragraph. That would be Senator Chris Dodd's page. He actually has background in education legislation with a particular interest in children with disabilities.
The Republicans use the word "choice" a lot which likely means charters and vouchers.
And Senators McCain, Clinton, Edwards and Governor Richardson? Not one single word. Very sad.
The only other person besides Dodd that spoke at length (with ideas) is Obama. He advocates bonuses for teachers who take more challenging schools, summer learning and federal college loans.
So should education be in the top 5 or top 10 issues for a presidential candidate? What would you want to hear? Rehaul of NCLB? National standards? A national program to educate and recruit new teachers? Higher pay/bonuses for teachers who accept challenging schools or who consistently perform better? More money towards longer school years/hours?
Last word: I greatly admire Mr. and Mrs. Gates and I believe they will change the face of health care internationally. That said, making a lot of money doesn't make you an expert on all things. The Gates' foray out into education (and having a non-educator be their first overseer) hasn't been very successful. The jury is still out on whether the Gates' transformation money did much real transforming and whether the small high school initiative (school within a school, etc) played out well (particularly in NYC where resources are scarce and schools within schools duke it out). The Gates' will never have their children in public schools and there's just a little too much of "we know what's best for you" for my taste.