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July 16, 2008

Quick and Dirty Analysis of McCain's Education Speech

McCain's education platform, rolled out today to coincide with his speech to the NAACP, contains few surprises, and no initiative as broad or detailed as the $5.5 billion national private voucher experiment he floated while running against GWB in 2000. Rather, McCain offered some expected bromides about "parental choice." He failed to mention early childhood education. He agrees with Barack Obama that teachers in high-need, under-performing schools should be rewarded with more pay, and, also like Obama, nodded toward public charter schools as a good option for many urban kids. McCain also seems to have absorbed the now almost-conventional wisdom bred by programs such as Teach For America and the New York City Teaching Fellows: There should be alternate certification paths that get elite college grads, mid-career professionals, and other non-traditional teachers into the classroom.

In the NAACP speech, McCain's main line of attack against Obama was that he opposes some specific private school voucher programs, supposedly because he is in thrall to the teachers' unions. But let's look more closely at the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, the private voucher program that McCain mentioned today. Less than a month ago, a U.S. Department of Education report on the program found:

After 2 years, there was no statistically significant difference in test scores in general between students who were offered an OSP scholarship and students who were not offered a scholarship. Overall, those in the treatment and control groups were performing at comparable levels in mathematics and reading.

D.C. boasts some of the most successful public charter schools in the nation, and school choice here has generally been a good thing for parents and kids failed by the system. But I've said it before and I'll say it again: There is no evidence that low-income and minority students' academic performance is improved by sending them to urban parochial schools, which tend to be the schools that participate in private voucher programs. No evidence in Milwaukee. No evidence in D.C. Supporting school choice does not require support for this sort of privatization, especially when there has been so much innovation and growth in the public charter sector.

cross-posted at TAPPED


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It seems to me that you can take the student out of the neighborhood, but you can't the neighborhood out of the student. To me, that means a difference in education really boils down to the parents and family, and not so much the school.

The Republicans support privatization of education. No Child Left Behind set the stage for this by creating high standards for "annual progress". If the schools meet the annual progress standards, they receive federal funding, if they do not, they lose the funding. Because the bill is written this way, it actually cheats schools out of funding unfairly. Schools that have a high number of learning disabled or special needs students are the first to lose funding because their level of progress is measured by standards made for non special needs students. Second, even effective improvement programs to raise progress hit a threshold after a few years and even though the students are performing better, their level of "annual progress" levels off, hence, the school is declared to be "failing" and loses funding. Third, schools that are underfunded in the first place and need more resources in order to improve progress are not given federal funds under NCLB and are also declared to be "failing".
Failing schools under NCLB are then prime to be taken over by for-profit corporations (privatization). Vouchers given to parents encourage them to send their kids to private schools. The problem with this model is that corporations cannot be trusted to teach unbiased information.

During WWII, the dairy industry was in decline. The "Four food groups chart" was developed and sponsored by the dairy industry and taught to schoolchildren to boost sales. The fact is that humans do not need the milk of another animal to survive or to be healthy. In fact, dairy milk is difficult for humans to digest and the calcium in cow's milk is not highly absorbable to the human digestive system. There are many equally abundant sources of calcium from vegetables and soy products. This is one example of corporate interests teaching propaganda in schools.

Why do Republicans support this model? It is a move to create a new cash machine and more religious based education and propaganda can be injected into the education system. It also puts control over the curriculum into the hands of various corporations and organizations who can choose to teach a one-sided view of history or completely omit important information from the curriculum.

Privatization of education is not a good direction to be going in and like most things Bush has promoted will end up being disastrous. McCain also supports it and wants to expand NCLB.

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