A little more than four years ago, I blogged about the literacy policies of Barak Obama, John McCain, and Hilary Clinton. Unlike George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, these candidates had little to say about reading instruction. Hillary had a plan for preschool education that Obama triangulated, and McCain clung to school choice with the tenacity he exhibited in a Vietnamese prison. Obama criticized “No Child Left Behind,” but not for the same reasons that my educator friends were against it (he decried it at the time for lacking sufficient financial support or enough testing).
This year it isn't worth bothering with that kind of column. The president’s education efforts are well known (more charter schools, more teacher evaluation, more testing, more accountability-rhetoric paired with lots of NCLB waivers relaxing actual accountability demands), while Mitt Romney clings to choice (more charter schools, more vouchers, etc.) in place of education policy.
The problem with the nostrums put forth by either candidate is that none of these is likely to have any real impact on student learning.
IES studied charter schools and found that, indeed, some were better than public schools, but overall there were no performance differences when the students' starting points were accounted for. Vouchers have not done so well either.
And, while you can find some positive studies on large-scale accountability assessments, the advantages have been tiny and inconsistent. If high-stakes testing is helping, its benefits do not match its costs.
I very much like the idea of evaluations aimed at measuring a teacher’s impact on learning, but such schemes are not ready for prime time. Arne Duncan touted such a system in Chicago, but this scheme was never scrutinized by others. Let’s face it. Such analysis is extremely complex and getting it right is more an aspirational goal than an immediate reality. (By all means, invest in studies on such evaluations, but start with credible research rather than pressuring states into adopting schemes not even yet half baked).
No point in reviewing these candidate’s literacy plans this time around because neither provides any. Romney wants to cut to education funding and Obama doesn’t, but given the nation’s debts, cuts are sure to be made no matter who is elected. Obama started his first administration by cutting the National Institute for Literacy and funding for programs such as Reach Out and Read, the National Writing Center, and Reading is Fundamental; why would expect anything different this time around?
The research is clear: If you want to raise literacy achievement increase the amount and quality of teaching and ensure that the right things are taught. Investing in longer school days and school years and providing lots of opportunities to learn beyond the boundaries of traditional schooling makes sense. As do investments in curriculum design and teacher education. Neither candidate is emphasizing these basic, old-fashioned, research-proven approaches and neither is likely to take steps that will improve literacy achievement in the U.S.