Finding the candidate who knows education the best

With the multitude of problems facing education in America today, it's oftentimes difficult to even consider that anything will ever be resolved. However, there is one thing afforded to U.S. citizens that can give educators hope: the ability to vote. With the presidential primaries in full swing, and the general election coming up in the fall, here's a quick rundown of where each major candidate stands:

Democrats

Hillary Clinton

Clinton is being endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers. In the latest issue of American Teacher, there is a page that highlights her strong points, followed by an article about her campaign.

Most of the items stress more funding for education, including the following:

- Invest $10 billion for universal prekindergarten for all children

- Increase funding for Head Start and Early Head Start

- Expand the maximum Pell Grant to $11,500

- Raise the HOPE education tax credit to $3,500

At the top of the list, however, she addresses No Child Left Behind, essentially stating that it needs to be fixed or ditched. Clinton recommends that policies need to be changed so that teachers don't have to teach to the test; that faculty has the resources needed to give children the education they need; and that educators have the flexibility to determine the proper solutions within the classroom.

Furthermore, Clinton stresses the importance of not utilizing voucher programs and reducing the number of outside contracts for public services. Lastly, she supports construction and renovation projects, including those that involve making existing schools more energy efficient and less hazardous to the students' health.

She has experience working toward the betterment of schools. Her work for the Children's Defense Fund led to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, "the first time children with special needs were guaranteed the right to a free, appropriate public education." While in Arkansas, teacher salaries rose, class size decreased and students had better access to high-level science and foreign-language courses. As First Lady, Clinton promoted the Prescription for Reading program, helped create Early Head Start and helped grow the after-school program from a pilot program of $1 million to $1 billion.

It's undeniable that all of these items are great for educators. One issue, however, is that nearly all focus on pouring more money directly into various programs. First, where is the money going to come from? Second, will money automatically make these programs work better?

Barack Obama

Although Clinton and Obama agree nearly across the board about the problems within the school system, Obama's approach is a bit more delineated in how he will tackle the issues.

For early education, he proposes a "Zero to Five" plan that places emphasis at early care and education for infants. He will also create Early Learning Challenge Grants to promote efforts, along with Early Head Start, Head Start and high-quality child care bumps.

Obama again agrees with Clinton on No Child Left Behind, but he also wants to make math and science education a national priority. He will recruit individuals with associated degrees to the teaching profession to help teachers learn from professionals in the field. He also plans to address the dropout crisis, expand high-qualty afterschool and summer learning opportunities and support college outreach and english language learner programs.

Last but not least, Obama stresses the importance of recruiting, preparing, retaining and rewarding America's teachers. He plans to create new Teacher Service Scholarships to cover both undergrad and grad-level teaching education. He will also look for enhanced ways to keep educators by making sure they have the proper education and honoring the best ones with monetary rewards.

In the Illinois State Senate, Obama helped create the state's Early Learning Council. In the U.S. Senate, he worked toward increasing the Pell Grant. He has also helped pass legislation to achieve improvements in the Higher Education Act, and he has introduced legislation to create Teacher Residency Programs and increase summer learning support.

Just like Clinton, it's difficult to determine exactly where the money is going to come from for these programs, but they are at least spelled out in such a way that the responsibility lies not just on the American tax payer, and not just on the school, but on the individual teacher as well.

Republicans

Mike Huckabee

A unique aspect of Huckabee's platform comes from his "Weapons of Mass Instruction," which are classes in art and music. He feels that these areas are "secret, effective weapons that will help us to be competitive and creative." He briefly touches on No Child Left Behind, stating that individual states should be able to set their own benchmarks. He also mentions that test scores in Arkansas rose dramatically, and that we should judge progress by the results, not just how much money is spent on particular programs.

He plans to support various modes of education, including public (he, his wife and three kids all went to public schools), charter and home-schooling. He expects that parental involvement will be crucial for education reform. To summarize, Huckabee's education agenda includes "working towards a clear distinction between the federal role in assisting and empowering states and in usurping the right of states to carry out the education programs for their students."

As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee passed legislation to provide music and art instruction from certified teachers to grades 1-6, and he created a two-year initiatve called "The Arts - A lifetime of Learning" to promote art education across the country. He was also the Chairman of the Education Committee of the States from 2004-06, working with a host of representatives from all 50 states to advance education policy and conduction effective teaching techniques.

The information listed focuses a great deal on what he has done at the state level, but doesn't delve too deeply on what needs to be done on a national level. It seems reasonable that he would attempt many of his ideas on a broader scope, but there's not really a clear outline on how this would occur.

John McCain

It took a little digging to find McCain's views on education because if you visit his website, you'll notice that under the Issues navigation item, education is not listed. You actually have to visit the main issues page, and education is listed in 11th place.

The only thing McCain seems to specifically address is allowing parents the ability to choose the proper public school for their children. It states that he believes "all federal financial support must be predicated on providing parents the ability to move their children, and the dollars associated with them, from failing schools." Of course, there's no word on what happens to the failing schools and the children left in them.

While mentioning No Child Left Behind, McCain doesn't not address a way to fix it, instead stating that "we can no longer accept low standards for some students and high standards for others." The only thing I can gather by this message is that he expects all students to be on equal ground, like robots, and anyone in education can tell you for certain that this is not the case.

Ron Paul

Paul is another candidate that has somewhat downplayed the importance of education, but at the same time, he does address it more extensively than McCain. In Congress, he introduced the Family Education Freedom Act, which would allow parents a tax credit of up to $5,000 per student per year for attendance at an elementary and/or secondary school. He also sponsored a bill that allows full-time teachers a $3,000 yearly tax credit, "thus easing their financial burden and encouraging good teachers to stay in an underpaid profession."

Paul wants to abolish the national Department of Education and return its functions to the states. He states that schools can be funded by local taxes, and that parents and teachers can determine how to allocate those resources.

This approach seems rather unreasonable on two critical levels. First, if each state handles its education separately, how would this help accreditation programs that allow teachers the ability to educate in multiple states? Additionally, how would this help prepare students for colleges and universities that could be in a neighboring state? Without some accountability and standardization, we would be further polarizing the American educational system.

Who's the best?

From the education perspective, Huckabee could be a decent choice on the Republican side, but to me, it's pretty clear that the right choice should be a Democrat. While Clinton and Obama agree about the current state of American schools, I think Obama has the edge in working toward a solution. During his short tenure as a politician, he has already made an impact in both Illinois and the nation, at least to a small degree.

It should be noted that in the same issue of American Teacher that promotes Clinton, there is a separate article titled "Generation Y teachers looking for change." In my opinion, Obama will deliver that change because that's what he pledges to do, and that's what he's always done, wherever he has been. I don't think Clinton would be a bad choice, but why settle when a better choice exists?