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Tag: mccain

The Very Brief Educational Debate

I missed the debate last night and also what seems like the only national discussion of education in this entire marathon of a campaign.

Five minutes, at the very end, out of thousands of hours of talk (hundreds of thousands if you count beyond the candidates) hardly seems like enough for an issue most everyone declares to be vital to our future.

Even worse is that a chunk of the discussion centered around vouchers.

McCain: Well, sure. I’m sure you’re aware, Sen. Obama, of the program in the Washington, D.C., school system where vouchers are provided and there’s a certain number, I think it’s a thousand and some and some 9,000 parents asked to be eligible for that.

Because they wanted to have the same choice that you and I and Cindy and your wife have had. And that is because they wanted to choose the school that they thought was best for their children.

And we all know the state of the Washington, D.C., school system. That was vouchers. That was voucher, Sen. Obama. And I’m frankly surprised you didn’t pay more attention to that example.

McCain unjustifiably praises the voucher program forced on the District of Columbia schools almost five years ago.

Studies have shown little if any improvement among DC students in the holy grail of American education in the 21st century, the standardized tests in reading and math.

In fact, most of the kids who used the federal money to move from public schools to private were not failing those tests in the first place.

In any case, it’s likely that the small differences in student achievement could be attributed to the novelty factor and that the kids’ parents were move involved with their education than others who didn’t go through the hassle of moving them.

Even worse, all the money spent on vouchers, in DC and elsewhere, has not done a thing to improve public schools, something which supporters of those programs claim will be a primary benefit.

Fortunately, some voucher fans are now beginning to realize they just don’t work.

However, although the concept is appealing to politicians needed an easy education sound byte, the major problem with vouchers is that for the students who use them, nothing fundamentally changes.

With rare exceptions, they move from one traditional classroom to another, from one situation when the primary goal is passing standardized tests to another with the same objectives.

Students are still lumped into learning groups based on their chronological age and expected to progress at the same rate as others in the same lump.

In the price range of the private schools in which DC kids (and those in voucher programs elsewhere) are using their money, the learning structure is pretty much the same, using the same teaching methods and materials.

If we are going to make any substantial improvement in American education, we need to rip apart the entire system and create something which addresses the fact that not every child learns the same way.

An educational program which takes into consideration that not every student will – or should – be going to college after high school graduation.

Voucher programs, like most charter schools, only recycle an instructional format mimicking an assembly line from 60+ years ago and try to make it mesh with a very different world.

Unfortunately, from reading what was said in this debate as well as the policy statements on their web sites, Obama and McCain don’t seem to differ much in their understanding of what is needed to reform our schools.

I can only hope that Obama is as good a listener as he seems and will pay attention to some forward thinking advisors, people who will help create something far better than the train wreck of a national education policy we currently have.

Maybe even some teachers?

Change We Can Network

A couple of months ago, there were lots of stories making fun of McCain’s lack of knowledge when it came to using technology.

However, as I noted in my contribution to the mix, I’m not as worried about his personal abilities as I am in the policies he would pursue as president.

One writer sees some major differences between the candidates in the area of telecommunications policy this year, saying that “John McCain is an AT&T guy; Barack Obama is a Google guy”.

In other words, McCain supports the positions of the huge telecom companies who view the internet as their personal highways and would love to extract higher tolls from content providers, especially those offering competing services.

As committee chair [Senate Commerce Committee], McCain also oversaw, and often encouraged, the incredible competition-stifling consolidation in the telecom industry. The country is now served almost entirely by three local phone, four cellular, and four cable companies. In his tenure as chairman, McCain supported nearly every merger. In 1999, he coauthored a bill that would strip the FCC of its ability to veto telecom mergers.

McCain’s mistakes derive partly from a lack of technological curiosity (he doesn’t use e-mail) and the presence of all sorts of Bell guys around him. His campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, Senate chief of staff, and chief political adviser have all worked as lobbyists for Verizon or AT&T.

But more blame lies with his philosophy. McCain espouses what he calls a deep belief in free markets and in keeping government off the backs of business. That’s all well and good, except for when a market–like telecommunications–requires intervention in order to create competition. Unrestricted freedom for the big guy often means death to the little guy.

The result is that the big telecoms sit on their profits while the US, especially in rural areas, fall farther behind the rest of the world in terms of widely-available, inexpensive broadband service.

With any luck, this is one more area of public policy that will change to reflect the needs of the public, as opposed to those of large campaign contributors, after January 20, 2009.

Digital Cluelessness

The people I work with spend a lot of time and effort helping adults learn to how to use computers and the net in teaching the next generations. (me too!)

So, this kind of talk from John McCain, someone who potentially could be setting digital policy for the country, is a pretty poor example.

He said, ruefully, that he had not mastered how to use the Internet and relied on his wife and aides like Mark Salter, a senior adviser, and Brooke Buchanan, his press secretary, to get him online to read newspapers (though he prefers reading those the old-fashioned way) and political Web sites and blogs.

“They go on for me,” he said. “I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.”

Asked which blogs he read, he said: “Brooke and Mark show me Drudge, obviously. Everybody watches, for better or for worse, Drudge. Sometimes I look at Politico. Sometimes RealPolitics.”

I certainly don’t expect McCain, or Obama for that matter, to spend as much time as the people I know twittering or writing a blog.

However, a president in the 21st century should at least have a working knowledge of those and other communications tools, an understanding that comes from using them as a consumer.

And hearing a national leader admit “I don’t e-mail, I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail” doesn’t inspire much confidence in his ability to learn.

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