Senators McCain and Obama both say public schools need work, but neither of their proposed solutions gets to the root problem of our education crisis.
Mr. McCain has supported President Bushs No Child Left Behind policy, albeit with qualifications, calling the policy a good beginning but maintaining that there are a lot of things that need to be fixed. He plans to fix many of these problems with financial incentives, distributed in a decentralized, entrepreneurial network of schools.
At the NAACP convention last week, Mr. McCain promised to expand school choice, Opportunity Scholarships, and alternative certification for teachers. Another of his solutions for failing school systems linking student test scores to teacher pay runs afoul of the national teachers unions, but Mr. Obama supports the idea as well, as long as teachers participate in designing the plans.
Mr. Obama showed less sympathy for No Child Left Behind. He told an American Federation of Teachers conference his education reform would start by fixing the broken promises of the policy. His solution is put a lot more taxpayer money into what he called a failed program.
Unlike Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama plans to increase financial support, rather than financial incentives, as the solution to school woes. And he has disparaged Mr. McCains votes against funding increases for education and his tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice.
The newly elected president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, does not think Mr. Obamas funding increases are enough to turn around underperforming schools.
The folks who believe that this can all be done on teachers shoulders, which is what No Child tries to do, are doing a huge disservice to America, Ms. Weingarten said in her July 14 address to the AFT.
Ms. Weingarten envisions a future in which a wide variety of community functions take place under the umbrella of the public school.
Imagine if schools had the educational resources children need to thrive, like smaller classes and individualized instruction, plentiful, up-to-date materials and technology anchored to that rich curriculum, decent facilities, an early start for toddlers and a nurturing atmosphere, Ms. Weingarten said.
Ms. Weingartens proposal would swell schools to an unprecedented role in community life. She is mistaken in thinking schools are a suitable replacement for family and church functions. Schools that lack the parent-child dynamic and prohibit faith-informed dialogue cannot fill the void of the traditional family and community church.