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Strengthening Our Schools with a Friend of Education in the White House

by Reg Weaver - September 04, 2008

This commentary is on the NEA's decision to endorse Barack Obama, outlining the ways in which Obama's proposed policies will benefit our nation's schools.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 85 percent of Americans are unhappy about the direction in which our nation is headed. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found 77 percent believe we are on the wrong track. Other polls have yielded similar findings.

People are clearly worried about the future, and it’s easy to understand why. Wages have not kept pace with the soaring cost of gasoline and groceries. Access to health care still eludes 50 million Americans. The war in Iraq drags on, now in its sixth year.

I’m not as pessimistic as some folks, because I believe we have the potential to meet these challenges. If the United States wants to remain strong and prosperous and retain our position of leadership in the world, we must renew our commitment to public education.

I’ll admit I’m biased about the importance of education. I believe that universal public education is the major reason that the United States enjoyed the world’s greatest economy in the 20th century.

Now it’s a new century, and we must put education back at the top of our national agenda.  While issues like national security and health care are certainly important, our nation's future strength and prosperity depend on providing a good education to the 50 million children in our public classrooms.

The National Education Association’s 3.2 million members, like most Americans, are ready for change. After eight years, we need a president who will stand up for educators and working families. We need a president who understands that the strength of our country, the vitality of our economy and the health of our democracy depend on quality public schools.

Senator Barack Obama earned NEA’s endorsement for president because of his genuine support for public education, and his record – his votes and his public statements – bears this out. We know that Barack Obama will be a partner with the nation’s educators to improve public education in this country.  

To begin, we must fix No Child Left Behind. Congress got it wrong in 2002 with an overemphasis on rigid testing. Today, there's a growing consensus that the law needs modification and improvement. Like parents, educators and community leaders nationwide, Barack Obama believes that No Child Left Behind is in need of fundamental reforms. He understands that a child is more than a test score.  

We must recognize that not all students are the same and address their individual needs. Barack Obama knows that students today need to be prepared not only for the next stage of their lives, but also for a lifetime of learning, which is why he supports teaching and strengthening students’ learning of 21st century skills.

We must secure adequate and equitable funding for our public schools. No state has achieved adequate and equitable funding despite years of court cases and education reform proposals. It is the necessary first step toward building schools’ capacity to do their job and giving every child a fair chance to succeed. Barack Obama has pledged to provide public schools with the funding they have been promised and to give states the resources necessary to support public education and help make sure that all children have the opportunity to attend great public schools.

We must make higher education affordable for every student who wants the opportunity to attend college or a vocational program. Barack Obama believes in expanding educational opportunities and helping our children learn from early childhood through college.  

And we must recognize the importance of the educators who work with our children every day by paying them a professional salary. That is the only way to attract and retain the great teachers our children deserve. Barack Obama agrees—he knows that a test is not the only measure of a hard-working student or a good teacher, which is why he opposes traditional "pay for test scores" policies.

This presidential campaign has been going on for a long time. But in just under 70 days, the nation will elect a new president. At a time when educators are overburdened and families are squeezed by higher prices for gas and health care, America needs a new direction.

Barack Obama offers us the best hope for change and the right plans to build a better, stronger future for our nation. He has a vision to lift up America's workers and a plan for public schools that will turn the page on years of misguided policies.

As voters, we can't sit back and passively wait to be stupefied by an onslaught of advertising. We must demand that the candidates articulate their vision for public education in the 21st century. Sen. Barack Obama's proposed education and economic policies are exactly what we need to begin fixing and improving our public schools.

If elected president, Sen. John McCain says he would continue the Bush administration's push for school vouchers, while weakening teacher certification criteria and refusing to provide public schools the basic resources they need to comply with the unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind. Our children deserve a better approach.

This election will be a milestone for public education. At the national level, if we elect the right people, we have the opportunity to renew our nation’s commitment to public education. We finally have an opportunity for leadership that is more concerned about fixing problems than just ignoring them.

Sen. Obama has listened and responded to the nation's educators by putting forth a plan that answers the needs of students and their teachers. He is committed to transforming public education so that all students can reach their full potential, and he is committed to fully funding necessary programs that will help students succeed.

Sen. Obama clearly understands that it's time for policies that reflect the fundamental truth that we rise and fall as one nation. He recognizes that if our country is going to recover from the economic and social challenges we currently face, we have to invest in the education of our students. NEA members are prepared to help put a friend of education in the White House and get this country back on track.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 04, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15361, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 5:20:48 PM

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About the Author
  • Reg Weaver
    National Education Association
    REG WEAVER is president of the National Education Association, which represents 3.2 million teachers and other public school employees.
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