The United States has always been criticized for its weakness in education. Although the country is considered the greatest superpower of the world, it has constantly been at the rear of education. Other countries seem to have more core academic instruction, better success rates, a longer school year, and quicker learning, such as starting to read and write and starting certain math and science subjects at earlier ages. The United States however has been slowly improving since 1963. Despite such slow and steady change, education has almost always been one of the predominant issues in the presidential elections.
This topic particularly played a significant role in the 2000 Presidential Election. Education was a main issue in this election, especially between the Republican and Democratic candidates, not only because of the fact that it is in dire need of reforms and improvements, but also for several other reasons as well. Although George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, and Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, have extremely opposing views and plans concerning education, they also share a great deal in common.
Al Gore’s policy on education supports a 10-year, $115 billion plan paid for by an education trust fund financed with ten percent of the surplus that is not dedicated to Social Security or debt reduction (Crowley 6). He is opposed to school vouchers for private, religious, and home schools, however he does support national education standards. He says, “We need to invest and demand more; not aim too invest too little and drain resources away from public schools with private school vouchers,” (Snow 2). Gore would encourage states to test their students, but he would measure progress based on a natural test.
States and school districts would be required to identify failing schools. If those schools didn’t turn around within two years, they’d be shut down and reopened with a new principal (Snow 3). Gore’s education agenda would triple the number of charter schools, and require schools to issue performance report cards to help parents select the right school for their child (Snow 3). He would allow parents to move their kids from failing schools to better public schools, but he strongly opposes giving parents money for tuition. Gore proposes the creation of 401(j) Life Long Learning Accounts.
From these accounts, employers and families would be able to contribute up to $2500 annually (Crowley 7). The invested earnings could be withdrawn and used tax-free if they were to be used for education expenses or “qualified life-long learning,” or they could be used after the age of thirty to acquire new job skills ( Crowley 7). The extra tax credit would match fifty percent of the individual contribution. In addition, he would support the College Opportunity Tax Cut, which would provide a choice between a tax deduction or a twenty-eight percent tax credit up to $10,000 in tuition in order to make college more affordable (Snow 2).
Gore also wants to create a National Tuition Savings Program to help families invest their money in special trusts which would help pay for their children’s tuition at universities outside of their state (Crowley 8). He wants mandatory teacher testing for all new teachers, rigorous evaluations after granting teacher licenses, and he supports merit pay (8). States would have to guarantee 100 percent of their teachers have licenses by 2004 (Snow 1). Gore’s plan furthermore includes spending $170 billion over ten years for children in public schools to achieve high standards.
Voluntary preschool would be available to every four-year-old, and an increasing number of three-year-olds, as well as an expanded fund for Head Start and Early Head Start (3). He supports raising teacher pay, and will hire 100,000 new teachers in order to reduce class sizes to eighteen students in lower grades, and no more than twenty in the upper grades. Al Gore would further provide $8 billion to help recruit, hire, and train 1,000,000 new teachers over the next ten year, with incentives for those who commit to work in a high-need school (Crowley 7).
Another part of his plan is to back the modernization of more than 6,000 schools, which would include rebuilding outdated buildings, wiring every classroom to the Internet, and training students and teachers to use that technology. For the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), he wants to increase the federal matching funds to closer to forty percent (8). George W. Bush on the other hand feels that the federal government should require individual states to set education standards and commence a three-year testing period for each school (6).
Standardized tests would be required for students, and they would determine the progress of students at schools receiving federal money through Title I, which is a program for low-income students (Snow 1). If results remain low, then the money would go directly to the parents. These vouchers would be about $1500 per child. Bush would also establish a $500 million fund to reward states and schools that improve student performance and withdraw a portion of federal funding from states that permit performance to decline (2).
His plan supports further development of charter schools by investing $300 million in a charter school homestead fund to provide $3 billion in loan guarantees to two-hundred new charter school (Crowley 7). The policy additionally includes a tripling in federal funding for “character education. ” Bush also is for the establishment of the Education Savings Account. He supports transferring responsibility for Head Start from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Education and wants to expand the role and research of the DoE in Head Start (7).
I won’t close down the Department of Education, but will transform it. You see, the goal here is not to spend the most, or cut the most, but the goal is to improve the most,”(Snow 4). Bush’s policy would allocate $5 billion to establish the “Reading First” initiative so every child could read by the third grade, and it would allocate $1 billion to establish a “Math and Science Partnership Fund” lining states with colleges to strengthen K-12 math and science education (Crowley 8). Furthermore, he supports providing additional college financial aid to high school students who take advanced courses in math and science.
Additionally, Bush’s plan provides $1 billion for over five years to increase Pell Grants by $1000 to students who take college-level math and science courses in high school (7). He would recruit math and science teachers by offering $345 million to increase from $5000 to $17500 the amount of student loans that may be forgiven for science, math, technology and engineering majors and minors who commit to teach for at least five years (7).
George W. Bush in addition would propose to combine the current federal class-size reduction funding with other existing teacher training funds and $400 million in new funding to create a $2. billion “Teacher Training Fund,” which states could use at their discretion for professional development or class-size reduction (Snow 4). This would also improve teacher accountability systems. $2 billion would also be given to new funding for after school programs. In regards to school maintenance and repair, he has proposed expanding the public-private partnerships in school construction. Private contractors could use those bonds to finance the construction of new school buildings, which they would lease to the school district.
The private investor would retain the right to rent out the building during non-school hours and may also “manage” the facility for the district (3). Bush has also pledged to establish the Tribal School Capital Improvement Fund, which would provide $928 million in funding to repair and build American Indian schools, and to provide $310 million in funding into the Department of Education’s “Impact Aid” Construction Program, which repairs and builds public schools located on or near military bases (2). For the ability to ensure technology boosts achievement, he would establish a $3 billion education technology fund.
The other candidates have their own policies on education as well. Nader, who is the Green Party candidate, wants to abandon not only the standardized testing both Bush and Gore endorse, but he also want to radically refocus schools (Lehigh 2000: D1). Ralph Nader would focus on civic and consumer education. David McReynolds, the Socialist candidate, supports national standards, testing of public school students, increased funding for block grants, the reduction of class sizes, computers, and school capital improvements (McReynolds 1).
In addition he is for federal tax incentives to help families save for college. Howard Philips of the Constitution Party basically states, “All federal funding of education is unconstitutional,” (Philips 1). The Libertarian candidate Harry Browne is against national testing, since it violates the 9th and 10th Amendments. He wants to end all federal involvement in education, so that parents could choose what school they want their children to attend, and would be able to afford higher education (Browne 1).
The Natural Law Party’s John Hagelin proposes national standards and testing, mandatory teacher testing, funding of computer training in public schools, and a type of education that would develop the consciousness or intelligence of the student (Haglin 1). The last candidate, Pat Buchanan, who is part of the reform party, is in favor of getting rid of federal involvement in education, changing it to a local level. He wants to give block grants to the states so that they could do what they want with the money in regards to education. Buchanan does not want to give any money to perpetuate bilingualism (Buchanan 1).
Now that it is clear where all the candidates stand, and the type of education reform policies they would initiate, the next part would be to discuss why education has been such a significant issue in the 2000 Election. One reason is that education in the United States has always been on a decline, and improvements have always been necessary. Education in this country has always been poor, and reform has always been necessary. The recently released TIMSS study shows that American 12th graders rank 19th out of twenty-one industrialized nations in mathematics achievement, and 16th out of twenty-one countries in science (DeSchryver 1).
A 1992 survey estimated that one-fifth of the adult population has only rudimentary reading and writing skills. On the 1994 NAEP, 25% of 12th graders scored below “basic” in reading (DeSchryver 2). SAT scores in 1995 averaged seventy points lower than those in 1963. According to U. S. manufacturers, 40% of all seventeen-year-olds do not have the math skills and 60% do not have the reading skills to hold down a production job at a manufacturing company (DeSchryver 3). U. S. physics and advanced mathematics students scored last among sixteen nations on the “advanced” portion of the TIMSS test.
In 1994, 58% of high school graduates passed Algebra II, 18% passed French I, 25% passed geography, and 16% passed Calculus. In 1996, 64% of high school seniors reported doing less than one hour of homework a night (Deschryver 5). There is such a need for teachers, that forty percent teach subjects that were not even their major or minor. A 1996 report from the GAO, estimates that 14 million children, about a third of the total student population, attend school considered unsatisfactory (Walton 2000: 1). These schools are also found in every state.
Several studies have found that students in well-maintained schools perform better than students in poorly maintained ones. A second reason why this topic has been such a main issue is due to the fact that in this campaign, Republican candidate George Bush has been very advocate about the topic, while the Republicans usually avoid education reform. The Texas governor has kept education overhaul as the centerpiece of his campaign for the better part of the last year, even in the face of fierce bombardment by the Democrats on other issues (allpolitcis 1).
As Bush once said in an interview, “ Education has got to be the cornerstone of domestic policy. The Republican Party has been unfairly cast as a party that doesn’t seem to care about public education,” (Frontline, Bush 1 ). Bush has been very advocate about vouchers, while Gore is completely opposed to them. Bush also strongly believes in accountability, and says, “ Accountability is one of the key ingredients to make sure children just don’t get left behind,” (Frontline, Bush 2).
He also says, “The difference between me and my opponent is that I know the best education reforms come from the bottom up, not the top down. The best way to encourage excellence for every child is to free people to innovate, and to encourage educational entrepreneurships, whether or not choice and charters are a part of that freedom. But the federal government should not mandate choice and charters,” (Frontline, Bush 4 ). George W. Bush has been advocate as well about his reading initiative. Gore feels that education has been so prevalent, because of jobs, and the increasing education needed in the job market.
Gore says, “ Now the difference between Governor Bush and myself is this: I would shut down failing schools and reopen them with a new principal and of the changes in the teaching staff and everything else that I’ve described. He would leave the failing schools in place, and take money away from the school, and try to convince the parents that it’s not enough for them to go and pay tuition at a private school, when it’s not,” (Frontline, Gore 4). The two candidates also agree on many issues, such as, school choice, accountability, getting more teachers, more spending on education, and better work environments.
However, their differing opinions have made education the topic that it is. Another reason why education reform has been so dominant is because at a time of prosperity, people focus on different issues, and the candidates need to address those issues. Chester Finn Jr. tells Frontline, “The voters have made real clear that in a time of general peace and prosperity, this is one of the foremost things on their minds. This is one of the top concerns that any candidate in his or her right mind would want to respond to what the voters are interested in,” (Frontline, Finn 1).
In a poll performed by the Washington Post, education, which received thirty-eight percent of the votes, was considered to be the most important issue in the election (Washington Post 2000: 2). Finally, education reform played a large part in this election, because of the “baby boom echo. ” More children are going into schools than ever before. The US Department of Education estimates that 2400 new schools will be needed by 2003 to accommodate increases in the school population, what the department calls the baby boom echo (Walton 2000: 3).
Libraries gymnasiums, cafeterias, temporary trailers and even storage closets are being used for classrooms. The GAO estimates the cost to repair, renovate and replace schools at $122 billion, while the NAE says $322 billion (Walton 2000: 3). The Student Teacher Achievement Ratio study found that in kindergarten to third grade, students in smaller classes performed better on standardized tests than their counterparts in larger classes (Wood 2000: 2).
Both the NEA and the AFT support reducing class sizes. The NEA has initiated the Class-Size Reduction Program. Education has always been a problem for the United States of America. Now more than ever, the government is taking an increasing interest to stop this problem. Although reforms have been made before, they are becoming increasingly more effective. Whomever becomes president in Election 2000, will definitely have a tremendous effect on education reform.