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Schools: Obama stresses more investment, McCain parental choice

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“[Obama] has really been a champion for investment in our kids ... but at the same time pushing hard on accountability, on standards, on parental choice in a way that strengthens public education,” Jonathan Schnur, an adviser to Obama, said at the Aspen Institute’s recent national education summit in Washington.

One of Obama’s criticisms of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is that it has asked schools to achieve vastly more without delivering the resources promised when it passed with bipartisan support in 2001. His campaign criticizes McCain for planning to hold education spending even and just reallocate the dollars. Obama proposes to spend an additional $19 billion on his pre-K-12 proposals by using money from cuts in other parts of the federal budget.

Both candidates have called attention to the need for high-quality teaching, particularly in underperforming schools. McCain wants to give states incentives to recruit teachers from among the top 25 percent of college graduates. Obama’s education plan is longer and more detailed than McCain’s, including details on recruiting, training, and retaining teachers. One proposal would pay for teacher education for those willing to work four years in a hard-to-staff location or field, such as special education.

The two candidates also share a hesitancy to offer much detail about how they would handle the key education item come January: the long overdue reauthorization of NCLB. “They’re doing this dance of talking about education without talking about No Child Left Behind,” says Michael Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research group in Washington that supports standards and school choice. “A lot of the country hates No Child Left Behind ... and yet the principles within the law around accountability and transparency both candidates want to embrace, because they want to show they are reformers.”

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