Obama and education — part two

Gee. I went to Obama’s campaign website yesterday to see what he was saying about education. And already I’ve received two urgent e-mails asking for a campaign contribution. It appears that Obama’s advisors are huddling this weekend to decide where and how to allocate staff and other resources during the final days of the campaign. My $10 would make the difference. I guess.

I also received a nice note from Michelle Obama inviting me to visit with her during a campaign stop at Buchtel High School this afternoon. Tempting. But I’ve found of late that a mid-afternoon nap on Fridays is a nice start to the weekend.

Haven’t received anything as yet from John McCain for President. Or from mccain.com — the home of the Canadian producer or frozen food products. So it goes.

Maybe Michelle will talk to the students about how our education system is failing them — and the implications that has for their future and for the future of our economy and democracy.

Barack Obama has it right on this issue. And again the disclaimer: I’ve already voted for him. And his position on education is a major reason why.

He points to the problems with No Child Left Behind — and the soaring college costs that present a real barrier these days to students and their families.

But mostly he focues on teachers. Obama points out that teacher retention is a problem: 30 percent of new teachers leave within their first five years in the profession.

Well, yeah. Aside from when you were a student, when was the last time you spent any time in a classroom anywhere in the United States? Folks, teaching is hard work, without tremendous financial reward. And the fact is that as a nation we have devalued teaching as a profession to the point where it is difficult to hire and retain excellent teachers.

That’s not just my view. I had a long conversation recently about this problem involving teachers with Tony Wagner, the Harvard education professor, consultant and guru and writer of the insightful book, “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need — And What We Can Do About It.

On this issue, Obama gets it. Here’s what he says:

Recruit, Prepare, Retain, and Reward America’s Teachers

  • Recruit Teachers: Obama and Biden will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location.
  • Prepare Teachers: Obama and Biden will require all schools of education to be accredited. Obama and Biden will also create a voluntary national performance assessment so we can be sure that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom and start teaching effectively. Obama and Biden will also create Teacher Residency Programs that will supply 30,000 exceptionally well-prepared recruits to high-need schools.
  • Retain Teachers: To support our teachers, the Obama-Biden plan will expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. They will also provide incentives to give teachers paid common planning time so they can collaborate to share best practices.
  • Reward Teachers: Obama and Biden will promote new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as a mentor to new teachers with a salary increase. Districts can reward teachers who work in underserved places like rural areas and inner cities. And if teachers consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well.

Fixing education in a way that benefits students, the business community and our nation as a whole is a huge problem. It involves a host of social, economic, political and emotional issues. Maybe that’s why we have been working on it for more than 25 years without great success.

So why don’t we start where we could really make a difference: in the classroom. Let’s educate, hire, train, mentor, pay, reward and support teachers. Let’s make teaching a valued profession again.


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