McCain on Early Education

I’ve been thinking about my daughter’s problems in finding a quality educational environment for my three year old granddaughter recently. Early learning has become a serious discussion in my household as in the homes of many American families.

John McCain believes a child’s education begins at day one, and the schools and centers that support early learning must be nothing less than excellent. Attention must be focused on providing access to high quality care and education in all programs serving our youngest children with particular emphasis on high quality preschool for low-income students.

Just as we have focused our attention for the past decade on the quality of K-12, McCain will look to create the same information and database for our early care and school readiness programs.

Guestblogger Virginia Walden Ford, Education Policy Adviser, McCain08

12 Replies to “McCain on Early Education”

  1. Are you suggesting that McCain supports Head Start? Or does he have some other mechanism in mind? Also, you seem to be making a slight differentiation between “care” and “education.” Does McCain support wrap-around services for preschool kids?

    I keep looking for details in these posts, and I haven’t seen any.

  2. I’d be surprised to hear that McCain supports Head Start. That’s not a typical Republican position. That said, it would be good if more attention was focused on affordable pre-school in America.

    From my understanding of the research, Head Start and similar programs create better academic outcomes for their participants, but the benefits fade as the children go through elementary school. I think the only consistent finding is that the children who participate in Head Start are more likely to graduate from high school and not be convicted of a crime than non-Head Starters.

    My concern for affordable pre-school and child care is more about supporting the omnipresent two-income families, many of whom are at their wit’s end about child care. As a member of the middle class, I see many working parents struggling to find care for their children as they need to be at work, obviously. Friends of mine have moved to different states to use retired relatives as child care, because they can’t find affordable daycare.

    This practical problem seems to me to be more of an immediate issue than worrying about the educational benefits of any particular pre-school program.

  3. The research on the long term effects of Head Start is many decades old. I wouldn’t rely on findings based on the program in place in the 1970s 1980s as reliable today.

    From a policy perspective, HS was designed to improve outcomes for impoverished students by giving them an enriched early educational experience that might otherwise not be available. If that’s still the goal, then the current program needs to be revised. As is, HS emphasizes hand washing, tooth brushing, and other such activities, and does not focus on vocabulary learning, reading, math, etc. I can’t tell if students eligible for HS need the emphasis on personal care skills, perhaps they do. But clearly these children also need enriched language activities as well.

    I don’t know if the government should provide daycare for families not in poverty. I don’t know if that’s one of our policy goals.

    I do know of two-income families that spend more on their automobiles than they are willing to spend on their childrens’ care. I guess the question is: what is affordable childcare in relation to family income?

  4. Cooler Heads: I also know two-income families that do not have cars and use public transportation – and still have difficulty finding affordable child care/pre-school. In the DC area (where I live), some of my friends have put their children on wait lists for day care BEFORE the baby is born (and still only manage to get off the wait list when the kid is three or four months old). I’m not sure what the solution is; it just seems like an ongoing problem that reaches all parts of the country.

  5. Pre-school can be a great experience for young children. But why is the McCain campaign promoting this as an educational reform position?

    There is no evidence to suggest that Head Start has had any impact on actual learning in K-12 school.

    This is another fringe “reform” that makes us all feel better but will ultimately fail to improve our children’s educational learning.

    Why isn’t the McCain campaign offering any real leadership on improving our *schools*. It is in the schools themselves that our children learn (or for the most part don’t learn).

    Where is the leadership necessary to get us out of our status quo rut? Can you not come up with something that speaks to how we should improve student learning instead of promoting these politically vanilla “reforms”?

  6. Guys, the fact that Head Start or preschool (as practiced in the US) has no impact on learning is irrelevent. The general public believes it does, thus the generic politicians concern about early learning “quality” and excellence.

    Besides you can’t go wrong asking for more information.

    If McCain really wants to help the education system, then he needs to advocate for unified standards.

  7. Rory, It takes genuine leadership in education (of which neither the McCain or the Obama campaign has shown so far) to say to the public: Preschool is great but our biggest challenge is improving our schools.

    It seems that both campaigns have done extensive polling and taken the position least likely to offend anyone at the expense of offering/supporting *any* reforms that might actually improve our children’s education.

    And how will unified national standards do anything to fix classroom instruction? State standards so far have done little/nothing to improve instruction. Why do you think that national ones will be any more effective?

    Just setting goals in no way points/outlines a direction towards an effective path in meeting those goals.

  8. Erin,

    I completely agree with you.

    I mentioned unified standards (and I should of included assessments), since I believe that until we have universal equal measurements and goal posts, there will be no movement towards reform. Besides, on a national level, their isn’t much that the President can do, and national standards seem at least doable.

    Personally, I would like to see another Project Follow Through, except this time we actually, you know, “follow through”.

    How about this for a unique proposal.

    We institute a national test of progress, then using the data we rate not only schools and teachers on a value added system, but we take it one step further and rate education programs and colleges.

    I am always surprised that no one ever talks about the quality of teachers from individual schools. I am guessing that their are programs out there that get it right, and ones that get it wrong. If we can figure out who gets it right, perhaps we can benchmark their program and force the other schools to improve.

    Disclosure: I just spent the last 4 hours doing homework with my four school age kids, so my thinking is disjointed.

  9. Clarification:

    In my 2nd to last paragraph, I am talking about the quality of teachers produced from Colleges of Education.

  10. Rory,

    The Feds can’t change classroom instruction unless they took over operations of the schools and I can’t see that happening in my lifetime. So any federal national standards would be rather useless.

    Despite the money that the Feds have poured into Title 1 schools over the past 30+ years, how successful have they been in actually improving the schools? The Feds have failed to improve anything (except perhaps in allowing states not to fully fund impoverished schools).

    But the Feds can do 2 things that would actually be of benefit to our schools.

    1) They can act as an evaluator of the states. That is they can audit the states, compare the education that that state’s children with other states and children in successful school systems around the world. This could act more like an accredidation or an audit providing feedback to the states regarding how they are doing. To do this well the feds would probably have to expand a NAEP like test to include history, science and possibly other content areas that are important for a quality education.

    2) The Feds could fund to quality applied research for school/district level (or even state level) improvement in a specific content area. This is something that the feds could be very good at and there is tremendous precedent on how to do this well in many of the research grants that the Feds already grant.

    That is they could offer multiple competitive 5 year grants for a joint collaboration between school district, curricula development company and assessment group to improve say, K-8 math instruction or K-3 beginning reading. With the requirement that all students are tested with a quality predetermined set of assessments, all testing data be published, all materials be published and reports from the teachers regarding how they improved their teaching practice and problems/successes of implementation. The idea is that this type of published, practical research be of use to other schools/districts that are looking to improve their students’ learning.

    The punative aspects of NCLB were quite the mistake. The Feds can not change classroom practice without taking over the schools and the law set up a system that was easy for the states to game (set low cut scores and the kids look like they are learning when they are not.)

    To really improve our schools, the future President could show tremendous leadership in talking about how our schools really should be governed and what the appropriate role that the Federal Government really should have in schools. So far the schools have such a convoluted relationship with district requirements, state requirements, and federal mandates, that no real improvements could every possibily be made.

  11. Cooler Heads,
    I just wanted to say in defense of Head Start. WE do not just focus on personal care. That is a rediculous assumption. Literacy is one of our main focuses throughout the day. We focus on Math and Science as well. Our students leave the Pre-K program reading.

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