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Public Statements

Issue Position: Education

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John's Education Platform

For a quarter century, I have been active in education, beginning as a tutor-counselor in the federally-funded Upward Bound Summer Bridge program and most recently working for eight years as Special Assistant to the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools. [See Education Experience] I am intimately familiar with the challenges faced by teachers, principals, and administrators. My three children are enrolled in public schools and I am committed to ensuring that every child has access to a first-rate education through our public school system.

Key Points in My Education Platform

I am excited about the possibility of representing the 3rd Congressional District in Washington and bringing to Congress my experience in many key areas of education, such as student promotion, mentoring, leadership development, class-size reduction, and instructional best practices.

If elected, I will push to increase federal resources for the following K-12 initiatives:

* Job-embedded, site-based professional development for all teachers, as well as full-time mentoring support for first-year and second-year teachers.

* Succession planning for principals and key central office administrators to ensure that the energy and progress of a school or school system is maintained, even during a changeover to new leadership.

* Early childhood education, including pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten, so that our kids can begin their school careers on the cutting edge.

* Outreach to private industry and other non-traditional sources of teaching candidates in order to address teacher shortages in the areas of math, science, technology, and special education.

* Incentives to bring top notch teachers and administrators into our most challenging schools.

* In communities where family and neighborhood structures are weak, conversion of schools into round-the-clock resource centers ("community schools") that serve both children and families.

* Other innovative school models, including public charter schools that keep public dollars within the public system, while offering parents and students greater choice.

* These are just some of the exciting initiatives that can help propel public education forward in this country and allow our students to compete with the best in the world.

I will work to counter the dangerous roll-back in support for higher education. Recent student loan interest rate hikes come on the heels of increases in tuition and the largest cut in our nation's history to student aid. The Republican-led Congress has slashed $12 billion from student aid programs to finance additional tax cuts for wealthy special interest groups. Moreover, President Bush's budget completely eliminates the Perkins Loan program, leaving more than 670,000 students vulnerable to lose out on loan forgiveness if they elect to become teachers, law enforcement officers, or if they choose to serve in our military. And yet at the same time, President Bush's budget only increases the maximum Pell Grant by $100 - from $4,050 to $4,150 - falling nearly $1,000 short of his promise to students. We must do better!

I will fight for a fully-funded public education system that enables every child to attend preschool through at least two years of education after high school graduation. This has been referred to as a "P-14+" initiative and Congress ought to chart a realistic plan for creating such a system. Fully funding public education also means fully funding the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I support the NEA's call for a phase-in of such funding over the next six years, which would mean increasing the federal contribution from 17 percent to 40 percent.

I will urge the overhaul of No Child Left Behind to ensure that the federal government offers real support to America's schools. The next Congress will take up the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), signed into law by President Bush. NCLB made bold promises to the American public, establishing important new performance expectations for our children. Regrettably, President Bush has failed to provide sufficient resources to allow them to meet these expectations, and the promises of the NCLB Act remain largely unrealized.

No Child Left Behind: Bold Promises, Not Yet Realized

No Child Left Behind contained bold promises: all students will reach higher standards; all students will become proficient in reading and mathematics; all students will be taught by highly qualified teachers; all students will be educated in learning environments that are safe, drug-free, and conducive to learning; and all students will graduate from high school.

These goals are appropriate and necessary. However, educational administrators, school boards, educators, and state boards of education have identified many problems with the ongoing implementation of the NCLB Act. Four problems are proving particularly vexing and are limiting the success of the Act's intent within Maryland and across the country.

First, the heavy emphasis on reading and mathematics in NCLB has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, particularly in schools that have been identified as "in need of improvement." No one would deny the centrality of reading and mathematics in school success; however, the excessive focus on these subjects is resulting in less time devoted to important subjects such as civics, social studies, the sciences, and humanities. Two points in particular must be emphasized:

* An education in civics is a necessity - not a luxury. It is our responsibility to ensure that students enter the work force and college with a comprehensive sense of both the types of political and economic systems that exist and the consequences of political and economic decision-making. It is shortsighted to trade additional or remedial mathematics and reading instruction for crucial civics and social studies curricula.

* Research shows that the students most impacted by a narrowing of the curriculum are those students who live in economically limited circumstances. Unless addressed, this result of NCLB is likely to undermine large portions of our notion of equality of educational access, a fundamental principle of our educational beliefs and practices, particularly since the landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education.

Second, and even more alarming, is the increased practice of "teaching to the test." Students who are experiencing this type of teaching are apt to be writing less, engaging in less discussion about content, and experiencing testing that is multiple choice or short answer. All of these practices limit the creative imagination that make formal schooling less of an opportunity to learn and apply knowledge, and more a place where knowledge is memorized and recited.

Third, the most destructive impact of NCLB stems from the unrealistic timelines for the implementation of accountability provisions. Ignoring all of the research on school improvement and any common sense notion of what impediments are still ahead, the Act calls for immediate improvement once a school has been designated as "failing" in some respect. Additionally, the sanctions for lack of improvement escalate in a series of steps that suggest there is consensus about what successful implementation of improvement strategies looks like, and that any lack of improvement must therefore, be willful.

Much of this, of course, is not true, and all of it contributes to the likelihood that once a school is put "on the grid" for remediation and accountability, it will never emerge. No one wants his or her child to attend a school that has been labeled as, "in need of improvement" or "failing." At the same time, the ways schools achieve those labels are not well understood by the general public, and many otherwise high performing schools are struggling with one aspect of achievement, yet have been or will soon be labeled as, "in need of improvement." This will have two detrimental outcomes: continuing erosion of the public's sense of the quality of education our children receive, and misappropriation of critical funding from schools that truly need those resources to improve over time, to schools that, on balance, do not.

Fourth, NCLB does not provide an adequate definition as to the definition of a highly qualified special education teacher. While local and state educators are struggling to meet rigorous testing standards, the duty is even more daunting for those who are synthesizing these new regulations with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). NCLB requires that teachers, who teach core content areas, such as reading, math, and science, must be "highly qualified." NCLB is very specific as to what highly qualified means in those subject areas. However, that same specificity is missing with respect to special education teachers. If elected, I will push Congress to improve the definition of "highly qualified" as it relates to special education teachers in the 2007 upcoming reauthorization of the NCLB Act.

At exactly the time when other industrialized nations are seeing positive results from emphasizing a more holistic approach to student and school performance and improvement, the United States seems determined to move the other way. Under No Child Left Behind, the accountability regime is overly rigid, with a punitive impulse that can be highly counterproductive. Moving forward, the key is to maintain the high expectations of performance that are imbedded in the Act, while allowing for consideration of multiple factors in determining student and school progress.


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