On Friday, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the Great American Education Forum, hosted by the Association for Educational Publishers. The AEP invited Jeanne Century and Lisa Keegan, top education advisors for the Obama and McCain campaigns, respectively, to discuss the state of American education…and their candidates’ plans for the future of education (at least in the next four years or so).
This was the first time we’ve really heard two presidential candidates’ views on education in a real, substantive, head-to-head way. I’ll say right up front that I am disappointed that we weren’t listening to the candidates themselves–I know that represenatives toe the line as far as speaking as a candidate would, but I’m eager to, someday, hear about education from the horses’ mouths, so to speak.
There have been some great pieces that give terrific overviews of the very well-attended conversation from places like eSchool News and USA Today, making it thoroughly unnecessary to formally rehash the event. And, for an overview of the overview, check out this post from David Hoff over at Ed Week…who always has a great perspective on ed politics.
Instead, to mix it up a little, I thought I’d offer some interesting tidbits that I found to be food for thought from both sides…
In the blue corner, the Senator from Illinois:
boils down to “Lifelong success for all students through education” in order to ensure that students are able to “survive, contribute and innovate” as an “active citizenry.” I’m intrigued by the concept that our kids need to be active citizens in order to survive in our world. This kind of urgency was consistent in Century’s comments…in a good way. Right out of the gate, she talked parental involvement and community engagement. Citizenship (with a small “c”) was integral to her comments throughout the morning.
Century spent a lot of time talking about “establishing a floor” in American schools–making certain that every school has the basic resources it needs to ensure that quality learning takes place. This includes basic infrastructure (both physical and technological), materials, head start, free meals for kids who need them, and physical education. Things we can all agree on. She then discussed what it meant to “raise the ceiling” so that our kids learn the best way possible. While she talked “high standards of classroom excellence” and “rigorous coursework,” I was a bit “floored” myself by her reference (two or three times) to establishing comprehensive foreign language programs “making American kids bi- or even tri-lingual” so that they “are able to not only compete in a global economy, but also to communicate and collaborate with their peers on the other side of the globe.”
I’m curious about this room where, between the floor and the ceiling, lies the technology and the minds necessary to achieve inter-continental collaboration. I think I want one in my house.
In the red corner, the Senator from Arizona:
McCain’s representative spoke passionately about standards, assessments and the need for a quality teaching force. We’ve heard the standards and assessment discussion, but I was particularly surprised by the conversation around attracting a solid teaching force. The McCain camp feels that “barriers are too high and standards are too low for our teaching force”…ie, it’s too easy to get an ed degree and become a teacher, too hard to become one if you’re a smart, skilled person. Hmm. Without an ed degree and a teaching credential, many school districts around the country won’t consider you for a teaching job. Does that mean that a biologist wouldn’t make a good biology teacher? Or a historian make a good history teacher? Interesting questions; I don’t think we’ve heard the last of them from the McCain team.
Keegan also pointed out that, either way, no matter who is president, No Child Left Behind is going to have to be renamed, rebranded, rethought–not because of its content (although the Obama camp might argue that point) but because of the impassioned responses it garners from both supporters and dissenters. I’m paraphrasing here, because I didn’t write it down, but her argument was that when we talk NCLB these days, we’re rarely talking education and mostly talking politics. Can’t argue that.
For those of you wondering, Keegan hinted that we’d be seeing a broader education platform
from the McCain camp in the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to it.
Some other items worth mentioning:
As I twittered from the event
, Margery Mayer, President of Scholastic Education questioned the campaigns about the virtual lack of conversation around education on the trail to date. The response was, of course, that the Senators had
been talking about education…suggesting it is the media who are keeping education out of the public eye. What do you think about that answer? Certainly, the media is our first (and sometimes only) source on election issues…but, either way, there’s a dearth of ed buzz in these campaigns…what’s so unsexy about education?
As one would expect, the conversation that ensued was extremely policy-focused, with not much discussion of real kids and teachers, but luckily, the AEP had a plan to tackle that…and did she do a fantastic job. 12-year-old Madison Hartke-Weber, Scholastic News Kid Reporter
from DC asked the following question:
“I attend a public school in Washington DC, just a few blocks from each candidate’s senate office. Although it’s academically one of the best schools in the city, we have plaster falling from the ceiling, water fountains and air conditioners that don’t work. We also learned that our entire foreign language program is going to be cancelled next year. How will your candidate make sure that all public schools have proper facilities and provide a variety of classes for students that will allow them to be more competitive in the global economy when they grow up?”
The representatives’ answers are written out over at 360kid blog
if you want to check them out…but the takeaway from that moment is this: All of a sudden, there it was…the face of American education…the reason we do this every day, the reason we care about all that wonky policy stuff. Maddy was awesome. So poised and straightforward and real. I’m so happy she was there to remind us of the purpose of conversations like this.