The Plan for Lifetime Success Through Education has nine sections. These break down into four general categories: 1) early childhood education 2) teacher improvement 3) school leadership improvement 4) drop out prevention. There is also a small, pretty non-committal, section on No Child Left Behind. I won’t evaluate most obvious bone of contention, funding these proposals.
Early childhood education. Almost three-pages of his plan are dedicated to zero to five early childhood education. In research, the case for early childhood education has already been made. There is Using incentive grants to help and encourage states and increasing Head Start funding, Obama’s goal is to provide voluntary, universal pre-school. He plans to “quadruple the number of infants and toddlers participating in Early Head Start.” Beyond pre-school, he wants trained nurses to visit the homes of all low-income, first-time mothers. All of these ideas are philosophically sound.
Teacher recruitment. Obama’s plans to “recruit, prepare, retain, and reward” teachers is also hard to object to. Teacher service scholarships will cover all costs of teacher training in exchange for 4 years of teaching in high-need subjects and school districts. Teaching Residency Programs would educate teachers in a year-long teacher residency with costs paid for through a three-year service requirement in the district. Both of these programs aim to recruit students. UMass already has such a program without a stipend. The 180 Days Program brings pre-service teachers to Springfield and the Bridges to the Future Program brings them to Athol and Orange.
Teacher improvement and Opportunities for advancement and additional compensation. Obama suggests funding a mentoring program. Mentoring has been found to be important in retaining new teachers. Massachusetts mandates such programs, but neglects to fund or audit them. Obama would make money available to fund such programs and align them, I think, with professional standards and competencies. Qualified veteran teachers would take charge in such programs, advancing to a leadership position and earning additional money. Obama never mentions “merit pay” but he refers to “promising local initiatives in Denver and Cincinnati” that reward teachers for a variety of things to numerous to name. The plan gets pretty fuzzy here. Perhaps mention of Denver and Cincinnati is enough. There’s no language to scare teachers or teacher unions.
There’s more to Obama’s plan than I’ve written about. I’ve skipped what he has to say (not much) about No Child Left Behind. It’s not a visionary plan, but in foregoing educational fear-mongering, Obama takes one step away from the conservative educational principles that have guided educational reform since the 1980’s. Many of his proposals are informed by research and already operating in some states so it’s hard to characterize the plan as anything other than mainstream. There’s plenty to work with here and no bad ideas. Although it has an $18 billion price tag, much of the plan can be implemented piece by piece, staggering the costs. Some pieces could even be skipped without damaging the entire proposal.