In Debate, Education Advisers to McCain and Obama Focus on K-12 Issues
During the course of three 90-minute debates between Barack Obama and John McCain over the past four weeks, the two presidential candidates faced only one question about their approach toward education.
That left lots of ground for their education advisers to cover when they squared off last night in their own 90-minute debate at Columbia University, in New York. Those wanting an elaboration of the candidates’ competing visions for higher education, however, were likely to have been disappointed once more.
The moderator, Susan H. Fuhrman, president of Teachers College at Columbia University, asked the two education advisers — Lisa Graham Keegan of the McCain campaign and Linda Darling-Hammond of the Obama campaign — only one question directly on the topic of higher education. Ms. Fuhrman spent a total of four minutes getting their answers, before moving back to other education topics.
In that four-minute span, the two advisers cited a few of the priorities for higher education that the candidates have highlighted on the campaign trail, as well as some issues that have received less attention.
Asked by Ms. Fuhrman how the country could “preserve access to higher education” given the nation’s economic turmoil, Ms. Keegan said that Mr. McCain, a Republican, wanted to do more to help high-school juniors identify the college they will attend.
By their junior year, programs should be in place so that students “are already being connected into high-level vocational training for life-sustaining skills work if that’s where they are headed, or they are already engaged with the community college or a university,” said Ms. Keegan, a former Arizona superintendent of public instruction.
Similar to what President Bush has tried unsuccessfully for several years, Ms. Keegan also called for combining dozens of federal higher-education grant programs. “All of these grant programs have got to be under one umbrella so that they are easy for families, they are accessible, there is transparent information about schools,” she said. “And that would create a much greater pool of money that’s available for them.”
Ms. Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University, cited the often-repeated promise by Mr. Obama, a Democrat, to offer students the possibility of a $4,000 tax credit to pay for college. “That will pay about two-thirds of the cost of college at a public college or university, and will enable virtually all young people who are qualified, have made the grades and are ready to advance, be able to go to college,” she said.
Mr. Obama also wants to keep raising the amount of the Pell Grant “so that it more closely approximates what people actually have to pay” for college, said Ms. Darling-Hammond. And she said he supported passage of a federal “Dream Act,” one leading version of which would provide permanent legal residency for the children of illegal immigrants who finish two years of college or enroll in the armed forces.
Ms. Keegan later expressed Mr. McCain’s support for financing basic research, “primarily in the area of science and technology,” after Ms. Fuhrman asked the two advisers for the candidates’ opinion of federally backed research. Ms. Keegan also pointed out Mr. McCain’s oft-stated opposition to research projects in which Congress earmarks money for a specific institution.
Ms. Darling-Hammond took the question as referring to research on ways to improve education at the elementary and secondary level — an interpretation that reflected the overwhelming focus of the debate — and responded with a broad call for the federal government to help identify effective teaching strategies. —Paul Basken