November 19, 2007

Pres. Hopefuls Focus on Education

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While many consider education the fundamental stepping-stone to living the American dream, other hot button issues have pushed education to the backburner. However, due to the growing inequality between socioeconomic classes coupled with rising education costs, many Americans are pressing for the presidential candidates to better define their plans for educational reform from pre-kindergarten to higher education.
According to the non-partisan campaign Strong American Schools, two-thirds of available jobs require some college education or advanced training, yet the number of American students who graduate yearly has dropped to 19th worldwide. Forty years ago, America ranked first.
Consequently, candidates are scrambling to find a solution that sets children up for success the first day they step into a classroom.
The creation of the No Child Left Behind Act has done nothing to alleviate the increasing disparity between public schools in high-income and low-income areas. Though many of the candidates believe in the ultimate goals of the act including statewide accountability systems covering all public schools and more choices for parents and students, ultimately many of them concede that the current administration has failed to provide a sufficient amount of funding to enact these goals.
Where Democrats and Re­publicans differ in their approach towards education is where money should be allocated.
Randy Lariar ’08, president of the Cornell Democrats said, “The biggest problem right now is that not enough work is being done to fix the problem.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) seeks to reform the act. She originally voted for it along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2001.
Democratic contender Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), famous for the sound byte “George Bush left the money behind for No Child Left Behind”, has similarly criticized its implementation but has yet to clarify whether or not he will reauthorize the Act, according to
The quality of teachers is also problematic, as low pay rates and social attitudes against teachers, among other factors, have caused some to stay out of the profession. As a result, most schools are forced to lower their standards in order to fill more positions.
Additionally, many teachers are reluctant to work in low-income areas where there are not as many resources available.
Eronmonsele Elens-Eig­bokhan ’09, director of Cornell Students for Barack Obama, explained, “The first time a black or Hispanic person enters a classroom, they are typically three years behind the average student.”
Sen. John Edwards (D-S.C.), the third Democratic candidate frontrunner, is running his campaign according to Restoring the Promise of American Schools, a plan he has proposed using three principles. First, every child should be prepared to succeed when they enter school. Second, every classroom should be equipped with a well-qualified teacher. Third, every teacher should work in an environment that is conducive to learning.
To address the issue of education, several Democratic candidates, including Obama and Richardson, have proposed setting up a minimum wage for all teachers starting at $40,000.
Carol Glenn ’08, a member of the Cornell College Republicans, does not believe this is a feasible option as it would only encourage some individuals to work only at the lowest possible level.
She said, “If you don’t have a system of merit based pay, then it’s really difficult to have a raise actually mean anything.”
In order to immediately motivate schools to improve their performances, Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, endorses voucher programs. Voucher programs enable families to choose to send their kids to schools of their choice, both private and public. One consequence of these programs is that it would force schools to compete for children who have access to money from vouchers.
Giuliani is not alone in his support for private school vouchers. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, also endorses expanding the role of the federal government in facilitating school choices program.
Giuliani’s support for these programs flows out of his belief that parents, not the government, should decide where to send their children to school, asserting that some schools are too damaged beyond repair to be fixed.
“Why should a government bureaucrat be sending 168,000 children to failing schools when parents think they can do better for their children?” he has been quoted saying.
But a market-based system has its shortcomings. While voucher programs do afford people more choice, they can be construed as a way of not really dealing with the poor performances of schools.
In spite of these efforts, parents and students alike face a whole new set of obstacles once their children graduate from high school.
With tuition prices soaring past the inflation rate, according to the latest report issued by The College Board in October, many low to middle class families are unable to send their children to college even with federal grants and loans, proving the American dream can only be achieved by those who already have the cash.
To fix this problem, Gov. Bill Richardson (D- NM) has proposed two years of loan forgiveness for each year spent in a service organization such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps.
Obama has recommended increasing the amount of aid dispensed through Pell Grants from $4,050 to $5,100. He also hopes to increase the transparency for student financial aid process.
Similarly, Clinton has claimed that she will make college more affordable by offering a $3,500 tuition tax credit and adjusting the rate of the Pell Grant in proportion to rising college costs.
Despite the increasing problems in the school system, many concede that education will not be the deciding factors when it comes time to vote next November.
Lariar said, “If we were to wage the same kind of war on ignorance and lack of education as the war in Iraq we could change the fundamental issues of our country.”
One candidate that has stayed quiet on the topic of education is McCain.
“He had a well defined policy the first time around, but it’s a new election cycle now,” said Glenn.