The next president will matter to education in Ohio

What will be the impact of the next president on public education in Ohio? We'll know a lot more about their different plans a month from now after both parties have held their nominating conventions and unveiled their formal platforms. But details emerging in recent speeches (McCain's to the NAACP, here, and Obama's to the American Federation of Teachers, here) offer a glimpse at the candidates' positions on education and what they might mean for Ohio.

Both candidates call for rethinking the entry process for new teachers, an increasingly important issue in Ohio. In 2005, 36 percent of Ohio public school teachers were age 50 or older. Because of incentives in the state's teacher-pension system (see here), this means that more than one-third of the teaching force is likely to retire by 2015.

Sen. McCain calls for expanding alternative licensure pathways that allow mid-career professionals and those educated outside traditional colleges of education to teach. McCain also would offer financial incentives to get the top 25 percent of college graduates into teaching and to keep alums of programs like Teach for America and the New Teacher Project in the classroom. Sen. Obama favors the traditional route to the classroom but would bolster it with residency programs and intensive mentoring for new teachers in high-need schools and scholarships to people who make teaching a career.

Both senators want to pay teachers more. Obama promotes a career-ladder-type plan under which "districts will be able to give teachers who mentor, or teach in underserved areas, or take on added responsibilities, or learn new skills to serve students better, or consistently excel in the classroom, the salary increase they deserve."

McCain wants to give bonuses to teachers in hard-to-staff schools and to high-achieving teachers but would give authority for doling out these bonuses to building principals, relying on their "good judgment and first-hand knowledge" of the teachers in their schools. McCain would also measure a teacher's achievement by the success of his or her students, and this would be informed at least in part by test scores.

Despite the academic gains Ohio has made over the past decade, troublesome achievement gaps still exist between economically disadvantaged children and their affluent peers and between children of color and white students. Sen. Obama proposes to address the achievement gap by finding federal money for expanding afternoon and summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged kids. He calls for earlier intervention with kids at risk of dropping out, too.

The candidates' positions are most divergent on school choice, especially the voucher variety. This year, Ohio's Education Choice scholarship program has awarded tuition vouchers to more than 10,000 youngsters in troubled schools-the program is capped at 14,000 scholarships annually. McCain supports such programs as important options when the traditional public-school system fails children. Sen. Obama, however, remains steadfastly opposed to spending public-school dollars on vouchers for children to attend private schools. Instead, Obama wants to "focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them."

Charter schools, it seems, fall into both candidates' definitions of the public-school system. Sen. Obama has supported charter-school legislation in the past in Illinois and says that "well-designed public charter schools have a lot to offer." How much he would embrace charters as president is less clear. His support of late has been tepid in contrast with McCain's unabashed support. Sen. McCain also proposes competitive federal funding for expanded online learning opportunities, including new virtual charter schools. Currently a quarter of Ohio's charter-school students (about 20,000 students) attend virtual schools.

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