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Obama’s months-old education plan takes the “broader, bolder” approach

Yesterday, we took a look at John McCain’s New York City-influenced education plan, which he rolled out at the NAACP’s annual convention in Cincinnati. Two days earlier, Barack Obama, the other presidential contender, told conventiongoers not to be swayed by McCain’s speech. “Now, I understand that Senator McCain is going to be coming here in a couple of days and talking about education, and I’m glad to hear it,” Obama said. “But the fact is, what he’s offering amounts to little more than the same tired rhetoric about vouchers.” As we reported yesterday, McCain’s plan did cover more than just vouchers, but Obama is still right to proclaim that his own plan addresses a broader set of education goals.

Obama’s plan, which he rolled out way back in November, appears to have anticipated the recent groundswell of support for a “broader, bolder approach to education.” He calls for increased investment in early childhood education, including a move toward universal pre-K and a fourfold expansion of the national Head Start program that has been linked with positive outcomes for the poor children it serves, particularly when they enroll early. He also calls for doubling the federal investment in after-school programs and for increasing federal support for summer programs for disadvantaged students. All of these initiatives aim to give students learning opportunities outside of the K-12 school day.

Like McCain’s plan, Obama’s plan dwells heavily on the issue of teacher quality. But while McCain’s plan revolves around differentiated compensation, Obama’s plan reflects an understanding of both financial and non-material issues that inhibit many teachers from making a long-term commitment to the classroom. In addition to allowing local districts to devise and teachers to approve differentiated pay schemes, Obama wants to fund teacher mentoring programs and collaborative planning time, both of which could make teaching a more pleasant experience.

Rather than relying on existing programs that have drawn fire for ill preparing new teachers, such as Teach for America, Obama built into his teacher recruitment plan strategies for creating teachers who are ready from the classroom from day one. He would like to offer “Teacher Service Scholarships” that would offer free undergraduate or graduate degrees in teaching in exchange for a four-year commitment to teach in a high-needs school. He also plans to create “Teacher Residency Programs” — in fact, he sponsored a bill last year to establish such programs, based on the model of Chicago’s Academy for Urban School Leadership — that would train as many as 30,000 teachers to enter high-needs schools.

And unlike McCain, Obama attached a price tag to his plan: he says it will cost $18 billion, which represents about a quarter of the existing federal education budget.

What’s the New York City angle here? It’s clear from his education plan that Obama and Joel Klein don’t see perfectly eye to eye on education. Judging from their divergent views on how education funds ought to be spent, I think it’s unlikely that we would see a Klein-led federal Department of Education in an Obama administration.