How would a Barack Obama administration’s message of change translate in terms of education leadership? The Presidential candidate has announced in rather specific terms how his approach would bolster the federal investment in prekindergarten, recruit and retain top-notch public school teachers, and even support charter schools.
Obama has frequently centered his campaign’s education discussions on criticizing the No Child Left Behind Act for being underfunded and too reliant on standardized testing. His proposal to reform the law includes replacing NCLB’s accountability system with a broader range of assessments that would de-emphasize standardized testing in favor of other evaluations he argues would better measure students’ problem-solving and other skills. On the campaign trail, he has praised NCLB’s goals of higher standards and increased accountability, but regularly criticized “testing that comes at the expense of music, or art, or physical education or science.”
His campaign places the cost of his new education proposals at $18 billion, or about one-third of the federal Department of Education’s current budget for discretionary programs.
These plans include his ideas for teacher recruitment and retention, particularly for high-need schools in urban districts. The program would offer $25,000 scholarships to college undergraduates if they go into teaching. Further rewards would be offered to teachers as they continue professional training, described as a performance-based educator preparation system.
In a February television interview, Obama offered support for charter schools, saying that, as a country, the United States should “get beyond a lot of the traditional categories” for education reform. His public support for charter schools has caused Obama to come under fire from some allies, including teacher union leaders.
Earlier this year, Obama told a Wisconsin newspaper that he is open to the possibility of vouchers as long as research verifies that they work. Vouchers allow families to opt out of public schools by using taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend a private school. Obama called vouchers an experiment, and if it works “then whatever my preconceptions, my attitude is you do what works for the kids.”
The Illinois Federation of Teachers endorsed his 2004 run for U.S. Senate, citing his voting record in the Illinois General Assembly. The union scored Obama more than 90 percent positive on legislation it termed important, and 100 percent positive on public education issues, while praising his opposition to private school vouchers. His voting record in the U.S. Senate earned him an “A” from the National Education Association.
In 2006, Senator Obama co-sponsored the Education Opportunity Act with Senator Jim DeMint. The proposal would offer scholarships to qualifying low-income high school students to earn college credits at local universities or community colleges.
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