McCain: Education is a civil rights issue

Education “is the civil rights issue of this century,” John McCain said in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention.

Equal access to public education has been gained, but what is the value of access to a failing school?

We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice.

Let’s remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parent — when it fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them.

Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have the choice, and their children will have that opportunity.

Senator Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucrats. I want schools to answer to parents and students.

And when I’m president, they will.

So, he’s big on choice and silent on No Child Left Behind.

Education Week’s campaign blog has a lot more on McCain and education.

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Comments

  1. Walter Wallis says:

    I hate where this is going. Instead of more federal control, why not eliminate mandatory union membership and union political contributions. Once the primary function of teacher unions, extorting money for the DNC is gone, then teachers can revert them to job improvement like demanding assistance in discipline.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    McCain is just saying this because Karl Rove told him that vouchers and school choice appeal to blacks. Of course, since no blacks are going to vote for McCain making such an appeal to moot.

  3. > why not eliminate mandatory union membership

    Because then you’ll see teachers paid minimum wage and fired for not promoting whatever pet cause the principal has.

    Just like happens in any non-union shop (try working at WalMart to see this in action).

    > Once the primary function of teacher unions, extorting money for the DNC is gone

    That’s simply a blatant misrepresentation of the function of unions.

  4. Senator McCain never demonstrated a respect for the federal principle. I expect some ham-fisted NCLB-like proposal from a McCain administration. Neither has Senator Obama demonstrated a respect for federalism, and from an Obama administration we will get equally ham-fisted and even more destructive and expensive programs.

    Senator McCain’s advisor on education issues is a former State Superintendent of Education, iirc, from Arizona, which has greatly expanded charter school options. I’ll credit Senator McCain with sincerity here. School choice appeals to blacks. It also appeals to whites. It doesn’t appeal to socialists and current recipients of the US taxpayers’ $500 billion+ per year K-12 education subsidy.

    The US Executive branch exercises legitimate authority over three K-12 school systems: the BIA schools, the US DOD schools, and the US Embassy schools (for diplomats’ children, overseas). All the President has to do to inject competition into the US pre-college education industry is…
    1. Mandate that these schools develop exams for a sequence of courses which satisfies graduation requirements (the schools could contract-out this task to, say, the Calvert school),
    2. Authorize anyone to sit for these exams at any time,
    3. Authorize these schools to license private-sector organizations to administer these exams for any fee that customers will pay,
    4. Mandate that US Executive-branch agencies recognize diplomas obtained by exam from these schools, for purposes of employment with the US government.

    Let competition between Sylvan Learning Centers, the Kumon institute, and the University of Phoenix drive the cost of a high school diploma down to the cost of books and of grading exams.

    Something similar could be done for post-secondary education, since the US government operates four post-secondary schools (the Naval Academy, West Point, the Air Force Academy, and the Maritime Academy).

    Would either of the major party candidates, once in office, challenge the US education establishment this way? I seriously doubt it.

    Sunk costs are sunk. Taxpayers pour over $500 billion per year down the K-12 rat hole. and a couple hundrad billion more into post-secondary institutions. If you homeschool, at least you won’t let the thieves take your children’s valuable time also.

  5. “That’s simply a blatant misrepresentation of the function of unions.”

    Of course it is. Their primary function is to extort money for themselves.

  6. (Walter Wallis): “…why not eliminate mandatory union membership…” (Stephen Downes): “Because then you’ll see teachers paid minimum wage and fired for not promoting whatever pet cause the principal has. Just like happens in any non-union shop (try working at WalMart to see this in action).”
    My dentist is not unionized, and he’s doing okay. My stock broker isn’t unionized, and she can afford private school tuition and a house in a nice neighborhood. Absent coercion, wages, like all prices, are determined by supply and demand. Uniform employment contracts cause waste. Teachers in shortage areas (Chemistry, Physics, Electronics Shop) are underpaid. Teachers in areas with surplus supply (Social Studies, English, Biology) are overpaid. Regardless of subject area, incompetent or abusive teachers are overpaid with their first dime and inspiring teachers are underpaid. I doubt that Ken Burns pays union dues, and he’s probably the most effective US History teacher who ever lived. I expect he made tens of millions from his PBS documentaries on the Civil War, baseball, and jazz.

    Clumsy formal assessment mechanisms and uniform pay scales prohibit schools from paying teachers even close to what they’re worth (more in the case of good teachers, less in the case of abusive or ignorant teachers).

    (Walter Wallis): “…Once the primary function of teacher unions, extorting money for the DNC is gone…”
    (Stephen Downes): “…That’s simply a blatant misrepresentation of the function of unions.”

    Mr. Wallis wrote “teacher unions” (italics mine).

    That quibble aside, I agree with Mr. Downs, more, here. Rather than suppose that unions exist to serve the DNC, more like, the primary function of the Democratic Party is to extort money from taxpayers and to transfer it to the public-sector unions.

  7. @superdestroyer: School vouchers appeal to blacks, but also to a lot of other people too — like me, a white 30-something suburban parent of 2 (soon to be 3) who would really like to send my kids to the school that best suits them — which might be the local public school and might not — but for monetary reasons have only the public school option. So you might want to be careful in your demographics.

    I personally would be thrilled if McCain embraced school choice but he seemed to dance around the issue in the speech. I want to have choice over my kids’ schools *whether or not* the schools are failing (in ways defined by… er, the government, I suppose). What McCain said sounded like a run-up to an enhancement/entrenchment of NCLB instead, which is a long way from the same thing as “supporting school choice”.

  8. Because then you’ll see teachers paid minimum wage and fired for not promoting whatever pet cause the principal has.

    You know, it is quite the wonder that the millions of professional workers in America who operate without union protection make much more than minimum wage and aren’t fired for their bosses’ pet causes. Obviously, those bosses and companies are all just suckers for not realizing what they can get away with!

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    like me, a white 30-something suburban parent of 2 (soon to be 3) who would really like to send my kids to the school that best suits them — which might be the local public school and might not — but for monetary reasons have only the public school option.

    I’d really like to read the books that best suit me– which might not be the ones in the local library. Also, I’d really like to have the security that best suits me– which might not be the local police. So does that mean I should be able to apply to my city for a check?

  10. (Fang): “I’d really like to read the books that best suit me– which might not be the ones in the local library. Also, I’d really like to have the security that best suits me– which might not be the local police. So does that mean I should be able to apply to my city for a check?”

    Police do not usually provide individual security. They patrol neighborhoods and investigate crime. If some judge were to order some city were to provide individual security to some individual (a Madalyn Murray O’Hare, say), and that individual were to offer to relieve the city f some fraction of the cost by replacing 24-hour police protection with Pinkertons or Wackenhut security, why not “privatize”, if it saves taxpayers money?

    Dunno ’bout your library, but it’s possible that the cost, per reader, to taxpayers, to operate the township library is greater than the cost would be to subsidize “book stamps” (like Food Stamps). Come to think of it, Food Stamps are vouchers. Does your county operate restaurants, grovery stores, or cattle ranches? You really want to replace Medicare and Medicaid (vouchers) with the VA? “The efficiency of the Post Office and the compassion of the IRS.”

  11. Regarding the union discussion…

    Remember that there is a difference between the local union that represents the teachers of a district and the state or national unions…
    It seems to be the state and national unions that are guilty of becoming political, while the local unions seem to serve their purpose – to protect the rights of teachers.
    I remember quite a few stories recently of local unions supporting modified pay scales with the state union opposing it.

  12. As a teacher, some of your comments have bordered on offensive! A few bad apples still seems to spoil the whole bushel!

    Do have to respond to a few comments made here, though:

    Bad teachers? They are only there for two reasons: 1) community politics…someone who can’t be gotten rid of because of stepping on someone’s toes or 2) administrators not doing their jobs and documenting behaviors that could then lead to dismissal. McCain or Obama…please, start there when cleaning up the schools!

    School choice? I live in a state where school choice is already an option and meet busses daily from other districts driving way too many miles out of way to pick up one or two students (especially when gas is the cost it is) and why? Usually because of community politics and rivalries. Hear the echoing theme here? Yes, politics!

    Home school? As long as the parents have the minimum education background that I had to have to enter the classroom…than go for it…if the family can afford to take that second income from the family and provide all the other social skills that students obtain at school. Because of school trips, I have had the opportunity to take kids on trips who had never spent the night in a hotel, flew on a plane, rode on the metro system in Washington (okay, that was a new one for me too!), swam in the ocean, visited all these wonderful places, while meeting more the grand people during a tremendous job across our state and nation…and the list goes on.

    The rewards are tremendous in this job of mine, and no matter who gets elected in November…all of us will continue to go to school daily and truly assist in making sure your children receive a more than adequate education…so they can then be our next doctors, lawyers, President of the United States…and teachers. Or whoever they want to be!

  13. It seems to be the state and national unions that are guilty of becoming political, while the local unions seem to serve their purpose – to protect the rights of teachers.

    I could introduce you to a friend of mine who’s a teacher and a member of the school board in the district in which he’s employed.

    Unions at every level inevitably gravitate toward political influence. A union’s a monopoly on labor and all monopolies gravitate toward the use of the political machinery of the state to expand/maintain their monopoly status.

  14. I think I am the diverse one of the bunch – I am a 19 year veteran of the public school classroom who refuses to join ANY union and who wholeheartedly supports school choice and John McCain’s stand on education.

    First, I believe that unions no longer serve their purpose and are only out to keep everyone teaching, no matter how good or bad they are at it. They have only their best interests at heart, not the interests of the students. I refuse to support any organization that does not allow families the right to put their kids in the school that is best for them. I have seen too many bad teachers and administrators shuffled from school to school because the unions made it impossible to get them out of education. That is a travesty.

    I have taught in a variety of schools, from the rural school with the highest teen pregnancy rate in the county, to a private Christian school, and now at a large public high school. Each school has a different type of student, and each serves its student base in the way it deems best. If a specific student doesn’t fit with that style of school, they should have the option to CHANGE SCHOOLS. My daughter was not a good fit at the Christian school where I taught; fortunately, since it was a private school, I was able to move her elsewhere. It was the best thing for her.

    John McCain and I don’t agree on everything, but I do agree with his stand on education. At least someone is willing to give school choice a second look on a much broader scale.

  15. John McCain is right. Education is a civil rights issue. Until we commit to eradicating the barriers to a good education across the board, both within and outside of the classroom doors, we will be stuck with the current system of stratification based on race and social class. The problem is, the Republicans are speaking the right words, but I believe it will take the Democrats to muster the will to act on such a commitment. The Dems may be beholden to the teachers who are afraid of change and how it may affect them, but the Republicans are beholden to the folks who stand to make a profit from education, from real estate, from social inequity.

    It’s a pretty tough logjam to see our way clear of.