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Publication: Conservative Review
Educational Needs and the Presidential Campaign

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              THE CONSERVATIVE REVIEW   
                   March 28, 2008
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Educational Needs and the Presidential Campaign
By Paul Weyrich

Throughout this prolonged presidential campaign the three 
main candidates - Senators John S. McCain III (R-AZ), 
Barack H. Obama (D-IL), and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) 
- have spent most of their time arguing about the war in 
Iraq, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 
the housing crisis, the economy and healthcare. Oh yes, 
and change of one sort or another, although the specifics 
of their calls for change are difficult to discern. 
Change for its own sake is not necessarily a positive 
idea, and once we reach the general election campaign, 
McCain and the Democratic nominee will have to provide 
more details about what he or she wants to change and 
why. Of course, details do not provide good soundbytes 
for the nightly news, whereas "change" does, but educated 
voters will want to know what they should expect for the 
next four years.

One of the issues the candidates have not discussed is 
education. What is the role of the Federal Government in 
education and what do they propose to do about the abysmal 
public schools in America? These questions and more for 
the most part have remained unanswered in their speeches. 
A quick perusal of their campaign websites, however, 
gives some revealing answers about their positions on 
education. 

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McCain, the Republican nominee, begins by stating that he 
"understands that we are a nation committed to equal 
opportunity, and there is no equal opportunity without 
equal access to excellent education." Fair enough. He 
proceeds to note that parents should be able to choose the 
school their children attend, criticizing Members of Con-
gress who send their own children to private schools but 
refuse to support school choice for others. Then he uses 
another "c" word - "we should let [schools] compete for 
the most effective, character-building teachers, hire 
them, and reward them." Choice and competition, two very 
effective tools for reforming our schools. I would add a 
third "c" to that list - curriculum - but, as education 
should be a local issue, curriculum must be reformed at 
the state or district level. 

Finally, McCain claims that he will "pursue reforms 
that address the underlying cultural problems in our 
education system - a system that still seeks to avoid 
genuine accountability and responsibility for 
producing well-educated children." What these cultural 
problems are he does not say. Most likely they would 
begin with the stranglehold teachers' unions have over 
the education system, stifling any dissent from 
or attempt to change the status quo. There is also the 
problem of family structure and support in many working-
class families but the President of the United States 
cannot impose a top-down change in the nuclear family. 
The family is the building block of American society, not 
another social group to be manipulated by bureaucrats and 
politicians (though some certainly are trying).

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Clinton is more precise in her education proposal. She 
begins by explaining her previous work with children, 
including a stint as a staff attorney for the Children's 
Defense Fund and various posts in Arkansas before her 
sojourn as First Lady. Her current education proposal 
outlines new policies for each stage of education, 
beginning with early childhood. She wants prekindergarten 
for all four-year olds and nurse home visitations to help 
new parents develop parenting skills. The former would do 
nothing to change the current dismal state of education 
while the latter would be an expensive and invasive new 
mandate. 

For K-12 Clinton proposes ending No Child Left Behind 
(NCLB), which is not a bad idea. She also wants to 
"recruit and retain thousands more outstanding teachers 
and principals, especially in urban and rural areas" and 
"cut the minority drop-out rate in half," although her 
solution is to throw $1 billion more at them, providing 
"multiple pathways to graduation," whatever that means. 
My favorite, though, is her goal of creating "'Green 
Schools' in order to reduce energy costs and eliminate 
environmental hazards that can hinder children's 
development." What more do I need to say. Education 
problem solved right there!

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Obama's layout is similar to Clinton's but begins by 
listing the five problems with American education as he 
sees them. They are NCLB's lack of funding, America's 
low scores in reading and math, the high dropout rate, 
teacher retention and soaring college costs. To alleviate 
these problems, Obama wants to expand Head Start, help 
states move to voluntary, universal pre-school; fund NCLB; 
make math and science a national priority (while not 
mentioning history or English); and create and fund various 
other programs geared specifically toward poor and minority 
students.

All three candidates fail to address properly the problems 
in American education. McCain is on the right track by 
emphasizing competition and choice but he lacks specific 
proposals. Clinton and Obama both want public education
at an earlier age, which is unlikely to solve our problems, 
and to throw more money at a broken system instead of doing 
the really difficult task of repairing the system and 
cleaning out those who want no change, no choice, no 
competition.

What these candidates should offer is a return to local 
control, an emphasis upon improved and more rigorous 
curricula, school choice and competition, and a signifi-
cant reduction in the power of teachers' unions. These 
would begin the process of improvement that we desperately 
need and make education more flexible and responsive to 
peoples needs. And that is real change we could believe 
in. 

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End of CONSERVATIVE REVIEW   
Copyright 2008 by NextEra Media. All rights reserved.   
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