Reaction to Candidates Education Policies

I started blogging in part as an effort to share the things I was already writing for work and for school. For two years this meant I often was posting to my blog responses I had written for the my class discussion forums as part of my already underway Ph.D. program. Then I was done with classes and spent the next two years completing KAMs and working on my dissertation. For the last year or so, though, the University has created online “classes” for students with the same mentor. There are very few discussion requirements in these “research forums” but one of the last things I needed to finish this quarter was a response to the following question… and since it’s relevant to what I discuss on this blog – and to politics in this country in general – I thought I’d share it here.

The Prompt:

I was once told that two things that are never discussed in a bar are religion and politics. Since we are not in a bar (at least I hope we aren’t…who knows what goes on in e-learning behind closed doors…lol), we are going to venture into politics this month. Review the educational stance of each candidate (McCain, Obama, and Clinton), especially any positions taken on NCLB, and discuss. I stress discuss, be objective and gentle. No flaming and no arguments. I don’t want to know who you are for, just want you to discuss the issues, something that it seems no candidate is very good at nowadays. Enjoy!

My Response:

Hi, all. I’m coming a bit late to the party, but here’s my two cents as an educational technologist. I’ve focused my response solely on the positions stated on the candidates web sites, thus giving them the benefit of judging them by the message they want to be judged by.

I suppose it will come as no surprise to any of you that I found McCain’s position to be the least robust. He supports “excellence, choice, and competition.” Sadly, other than a nod to equity, his position doesn’t address excellence. Five of the eight paragraphs in his position address choice and competition, which go hand in hand for him. It’s clear he supports changes that will make it possible for parents to choose the school their child attends and for schools to compete for parents’ “business.” I suppose some sort of voucher system might make this possible, but his site does not address the specifics. Also, from my perspective, the issues I would care about are not addressed at all. There is no discussion of preparing our students for the 21st Century, of innovative teaching, or of educational technology in any form.

Clinton’s position focuses on “improving our schools.” She provides much more detail on her background, especially with respect to handicapped education and after school programs. Regarding K-12 education, she plans to end NCLB (a stance that ought to be popular with educators if my experience is any guide). Other policies that caught my eye were her positions on creating “green” schools, multiple pathways to graduation, additional after-school programs, and opportunities for internships or job programs. These strike me as plans that might include some innovative teaching or educational technology, but sadly these things are missing from her position as well.

Obama’s position focuses on “a world class education.” (Personally, I find this phrase tired – and can’t help wondering what it means to the people that use it.) He hopes to reform and fully fund NCLB. His reforms would include new types of assessments (he suggests that teaching to standardized tests isn’t working) and solutions that would support rather than punish struggling schools. He explicitly supports math and science education, but I suspect that isn’t nearly as important as teaching more right-brained skills to our students at this point. He also supports additional after-school and summer learning programs, which again might support more innovative teaching or educational technology. Regarding teachers, Obama describes plans to recruit, prepare, retain, and reward teachers. Again, the issues I am most interested in are absent from the message he puts forth on his web site.

However, unlike the other candidates, Obama also includes a link to more details, a 15 page PDF expanding on the plans he describes on his site. In this, it is clear that some innovative teaching and learning – and some educational technology – plays a role in his plan. For instance, this excerpt struck me as important:

“This [plan for reforming NCLB by improving assessments] include(s) funds for states to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas. These assessments will provide immediate feedback so that teachers can begin improving student learning right away.”

Though I’d rather see him start from scratch with NCLB, this strikes me as the most substantial and attractive thing I saw on any of these sites. Unfortunately, throughout the rest of his more detailed plan, technology only appears in his discussions of math and science education. Given his general message of hope and change, I would like to see more of each in his education policy. The focus on STEM education is primarily a fear based response to changes in the world. I would rather see a candidate put forth an education policy that strongly advocates major changes in education, including a focus on creating a creative and empowered population of life long learners. But what I would like to see would be a different (and longer) post altogether. ;)

Ultimately, I think the sad truth is that all of these candidates are far removed from the realities of the classroom – and even further removed from the sort of best practice that is supported by research and by the innovations of our colleagues in the field of educational technology.

I also recognize that politics can be a touchy subject, but at this point I’d love to hear responses from any of you as well – I imagine most of you have also given this a lot of though, perhaps even considerably more than I have. And, as my classmate’s responses revealed there is a lot more available regarding the candidates positions than is shared on their websites, and I’d be grateful for anything you all can share here.