Where the candidates stand on education reform
In anticipation of the upcoming 2008 presidential primaries, Silver Chips brings you the first installment in a political analysis series that will track six leading candidates and their positions on the issues most important to students.
After recent fluctuations and new federal regulations in the student loan market - and yet another year of debate over the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) - this month's topic is education reform. Here's a look at the agendas of some of the race's frontrunners, with comments from a Chips interview with Andrew Rotherham, co-director and co-founder of Education Sector, a nonpartisan educational policy think tank.
Even though New York Senator Hillary Clinton supported NCLB in 2001, she has since confirmed her belief that the Bush administration has underfunded the program. She hopes to reduce class sizes, recruit more teachers, encourage student-mentoring programs and renovate run-down schools. Clinton also supported college loan programs and tax breaks to help pay for college tuition. In 2001, Clinton voted to support tax relief for student loan interests. Also, as First Lady of Arkansas, she worked on education reforms and teacher accountability policies that she considered were "ahead of the time."
To Rotherham, Clinton stands out as the candidate best positioned to institute effective education reform.
Though Senator Obama was not yet a U.S. senator when NCLB was passed in 2001, he supports the idea but, like Clinton, laments its implementation. In a July 5 speech, he called NCLB "one of the emptiest slogans in the history of politics."
A cornerstone of Obama's proposed education reform lies in a plan to increase federal college aid. Decreases in the effectiveness of the maximum Pell Grant, which helps lower-income students pay for college, have particularly outraged Obama, and his first proposed bill in the U.S. Senate was an initiative to increase the maximum Pell Grant.
Overall, Rotherham believes that Obama's ideas have been more general than concrete - compared to Clinton and Edwards's extensive educational reform plans.
John Edwards, the former North Carolina Senator and 2004 vice-presidential candidate, has built his campaign on a populist ideology of fighting poverty and social injustice.
As the only Democratic frontrunner to graduate from a public university, Edwards has unique experience with the public school system. Like Clinton and Obama, he disapproves of NCLB's implementation. Edwards promises on his campaign website to "radically overhaul" NCLB if elected.
As part of his College For Everyone initiative, Edwards has proposed simplifying the application process for student aid so that students can borrow money directly from the Department of Education. Another aspect of this plan involves the creation of "second chance schools," which would provide high school dropouts an opportunity to return to school and earn their diplomas.
Like most other key Republican candidates, Giuliani favors the use of vouchers, which give students various choices in school selection. However, he was unable to implement a city-wide charter program during his term as mayor, and many New York educational and political officials have criticized his record in this area.
Though he supports NCLB, it remains unclear what changes, if any, Giuliani would make to the program. Rotherham said that like most Republican candidates, Giuliani has not yet emphasized education in his campaign and probably will not do so until the general election. In an Oct. 21 Republican debate, Giulianai called education "the biggest civil rights issue that we face in the 21st century" because of the lack of parent control over which school their children attend.
More likely to be recognized for his three years on "Law and Order" than his term as a Tennessee senator, Fred Thompson has remained relatively silent on specific policies after entering the race late in September. He has, however, supported conservative policy, emphasizing minimal government spending and taxing.
As a Senator, he voted against funding smaller classes and student testing to save students the expenses of private tutors. He also opposed a $448 billion tax cut on education and debt reduction, but supported a $75 million package for abstinence education.
Rotherham said that it's too early, however, to assess the educational policies of Thompson, because of his relatively late entry into the presidential race.
Of all the Republican candidates, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has been the most outspoken about education. He supports NCLB and, if elected, he will approach education from an economical perspective, focusing on skills most useful to keeping the U.S. a military and economic superpower, said Alex Burgos, a campaign spokesperson. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney created pay incentives for teachers qualified to teach math, science and Advanced Placement classes, and a scholarship program covering in-state tuition for students graduating in the top quarter of their high school class.
Rotherham feels that as a former governor, Romney also has the most relevant experience with education policy because of education's place as a traditionally state-government controlled issue. "Of the Republican candidates, he is in the best position to push forward ambitious, pragmatic proposals," Rotherham said.
While only a handful of top-tier primary candidates currently dominate the political spotlight, over a dozen other candidates are running for president. For the first time since 1928, neither the incumbent president nor the incumbent vice president is seeking the presidency, creating more opportunities for lesser known presidential hopefuls, including Texas Representative Ron Paul and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.
Ron Paul, a 10-term Republican Congressman and 1988 Libertarian presidential candidate, has consistently separated himself from Bush and his spending tendencies. He advocates the elimination of most federal departments, including the Department of Education and has consistently voted against standardized testing, including NCLB. He has, however, supported a variety of tax incentive programs for both teachers and students' parents, as well as the 2007 College Student Relief Act to make student loans more affordable, although he received a 'D' on the National Education Association's congressional report card.
Known for his outlandish views and fiery appearances at the Democratic debates, former Senator Mike Gravel has proven to be one of the most eccentric candidates in the race. In an April debate he famously asked Barack Obama, "Who the hell are we going to nuke? Tell me, Barack. Barack, who do you want to nuke?"
In a candidate forum on http://www.washingtonpost.com, Silver Chips asked Gravel about his views on NCLB and college tuition. Here is his response:
"No Child Left Behind is a failure. Our whole system of education is in trouble. All of the stakeholders are all at fault - a third of our children don't graduate from high school. That is appalling. The way to change that is to look at countries like Finland, Spain, Norway and others. Those countries educate children from start to Ph.D. with no charge to the children. If we're so powerful and rich, we should be able to do as well as them. I think it's an abomination that you have to pay for your higher education and I'll change the direction of this country to make the cost of higher education borne by society, meaning the government, at all levels."
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