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Education Reporter

Presidential Candidates Make Education Promises, Proposals
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Although education has taken a back seat to other issues in the 2008 presidential election, the candidates do have a few things to say on the subject. Not surprisingly, they differ from each other on several key points.

Obama's proposals

Obama has focused on the need for more and better trained teachers. "I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries, and give them more support," he said at the Democratic National Convention. "And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability." Last year, he promised the National Education Association (NEA) that he would spend billions of dollars on teacher recruitment and training. Obama wants to create Teacher Service Scholarships, covering four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate education, in exchange for four years of teaching in a high-need subject or location.

In his speeches to the NEA annual meeting in 2007 and 2008, Obama raised hackles by referring to his support for merit pay for teachers. Obama has since toned down his references to merit-based pay somewhat, and now refers to "innovative" ways of paying teachers, which will be designed with their input.

Like his former foe Hillary Clinton, Obama has made early childhood programs a major part of his education plan. He plans to quadruple the Early Head Start program, for children from birth to age 3. "Unlike other early childhood education plans, the Obama-Biden plan places key emphasis at early care and education for infants, which is essential for children to be ready to enter kindergarten," reads the website of the Obama campaign.

Obama promises to "provide affordable and high-quality child care to ease the burden on working families." In total, he proposes to spend an additional $10 billion a year on preschool programs. The nation currently spends $25 billion a year on such programs.

Greater accessibility to higher education also numbers among Obama's education proposals. He plans to create $4,000 tax credits for college tuition. Students receiving the credit would have to complete 100 hours of community service. In 2007, Joe Biden told the NEA he believes every American should attend at least two years of college.

Obama has criticized McCain on education, saying that McCain "hasn't done one thing" for public education during his quarter-century in Congress. Obama supporters also link McCain with George W. Bush, whom they say wreaked further havoc in American education by under funding No Child Left Behind.

McCain's Proposals

McCain stresses free-market solutions to America's education problems. "The deplorable status of preparation for our children, particularly in comparison with the rest of the industrialized world, does not allow us the luxury of eliminating options in our educational repertoire," declares the McCain campaign. "John McCain will fight for the ability of all students to have access to all schools of demonstrated excellence, including their own homes."

In addition to school choice through vouchers, McCain also supports expanding opportunities for low-income students to enroll in virtual schools online. He believes that online schooling will play an important role in expanding education options.

McCain favors merit pay for teachers, based on improving students' scores on standardized tests. Obama has been hesitant to link his support for merit pay directly to students' outcomes on academic assessments. McCain wants to recruit teachers from other fields through alternative teacher accreditation systems. On the subject of early childhood programs, McCain says he wants to continue providing access to preschool for the neediest children. He wants to focus federal programs on the neediest children, and to provide taxpayer-funded preschool programs only in contexts in which they are proven to help children's school readiness.

McCain wants to preserve and promote local control of education funding. He thinks principals, instead of government officials at the federal or state levels, should have greater control over spending at their schools. He cites the success of many charter schools as proof that local control over funding and other aspects of schooling produces better results than bureaucratic control.

McCain's camp criticizes Obama for what they term "tax and spend" education policies that fall short of reforming the system in meaningful ways. "Senator McCain . . . is interested in empowering families and speaking directly to the educational needs of Americans, as opposed to the system," said Eugene W. Hickok, a McCain advisor who served formerly in Pres. Bush's Department of Education. "Whereas Obama, beyond his mantra of more money, more money, is really just supporting these traditional approaches to the system."

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