Candidates take on educational policy reform

For many Tech students, 2008 will be an eventful year. Most of them will be voting for their favorite presidential candidate. One of the factors that will influence their choice will be the educational policies of Obama and McCain, as these policies will directly impact students.

The two presidential candidates have focused on the key factors that will make education more effective and more inclusive. Both of the presidential candidates believe that America should remain one of the leading producers of the most skilled workforce in the world. They feel that any educational policies made should help universities modernize themselves and rise to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

They both believe that the government should not impose unnecessary restrictions on universities which render them inefficient. The educational system in America should provide equal opportunities for students with quality academic standards. All American academic institutions, including Tech, should hail these educational policy objectives of the two presidential candidates.

The Republican candidate believes that the information which the academic institutions submit to the government should be played back to the parents and families so that the students are more informed about the various institutions and can make the right decisions.

McCain feels the need to empower the parents about their children’s performance, helping them to make better decisions about their children’s future. In this way, parents can also be a part of the educational system and can improve upon it. Hans Klein, an associate professor of Public Policy at Tech, agrees with this.

“The fine line of education is the parent. They educate children, just like teachers. Greater involvement by them will help,” Klein said.

Both presidential candidates feel the need to empower the teachers and make them accountable. Democratic presidential candidate Obama believes in the three R’s: “recruit teachers,” “retain teachers” and “reward teachers.” His policies will accredit all schools of education and will also improve teaching techniques. He will create new teacher service scholarships that will help in recruiting qualified teachers. He believes that a mentoring program between the experienced teachers and the newly recruited teachers will improve the latter’s skills and their efficiency to teach. Obama has also thought about increasing the pay scale of the teachers.

McCain has outlined similar policies. He believes that adequate funds should be provided by the government to recruit teachers. He has also expressed the need for programs which demand training of teachers and of starting alternate certification programs. He has expressed the need for a higher pay scale for the teachers and many other benefits for professional teachers.

McCain believes in providing teachers with high quality professional development which focuses on instructional strategies for the academic benefits of students. According to McCain, bonuses to the teachers should be provided based on their students’ academic performance.

McCain’s policies could positively affect Tech. Better pay and training could mean better quality teachers, making Tech an even more rewarding a place for academics. Klein noted that, in his opinion, investing in people would be more beneficial than investing in technology. McCain has made a similar point by urging the need to empower the school principals with greater control on spending and not allowing the bureaucracy to meddle with the school affairs.

Both of the presidential candidates have taken the same stance when it comes to simpler tax benefits for education and financial aid. They believe that the existing tax benefits should be simplified and college education should be made more affordable for the students of America. Non-complex taxation schemes would encourage more families to go for taxation benefits and hence lower their burden on paying for higher education.

Obama and McCain are also thinking about simplifying the application process for financial aid and making the administrative programs more helpful to the students. There is little doubt that with such policies in place, Tech students will be among the beneficiaries.

Furthermore, McCain wants effective reformation of student lending programs. He wants it to be a simplified process and more helpful for the students who are aspiring for higher education.

McCain has proposed an expansion of the federal student loan system, demanding the highest standard of integrity for participating private lenders. McCain has also underlined the need to improve research work by eliminating earmarks.

According to him, eliminating earmarks will allow more funds from the federal government to be diverted for university research purposes, and that would be end up being a big boost for Tech and its students.

“I believe that Tech is more affected by research budgets (Dept. of Defense, National Science Foundation) than education budgets,” Klein said.

McCain also wants that the budget for the opportunity scholarships, at present costing $13 million, should expand to $20 million to benefit about a thousand more families.

Obama also wants a new American opportunity tax credit to ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans.

An additional thrust of McCain’s plan is to expand virtual learning (online education) by providing more funds, estimated at $500 million.

He aims at starting new virtual schools and supports the development of online courses. These online courses will help the students in taking dual enrolment into colleges.

This may be a good move, though Klein thinks otherwise.

“Just avoid the “gee whiz” approach to technology; keep things simple and useful. Ultimately, good teaching requires investment in people, not technology,” Klein said.

Obama’s commitment to inclusive education is clear when he supports outreach programs like GEAR UP, TRIO and Upward Bound to encourage more young people from low-income families to consider and prepare for college.

Obama has also focused on enhancing access to education for students who have limited English proficiency.

McCain’s and Obama’s plans are likely to empower professors at Tech. Also, with simpler tax benefits for higher education, Tech can hope to choose among a larger pool of academically driven students. At the same time, with more financial aid available, a larger number of needy students can gain access to higher education.

However, there are some weaknesses in the US education system which Obama and McCain have not addressed.

“Core weaknesses of the system are that school funding is local, so poor localities have poor schools, and wealthier localities have better schools,” Klein said.

The schools reproduce the problems of their local community. Also, the large income disparities in the US mean that both poorer parents must work and so have less time to participate in their kids’ education.”