Education advisors for presumptive presidential nominees John McCain (R) and Barack Obama (D) outlined the candidates’ stances on key issues June 6, with both emphasizing a larger role for technology in schools.

The advisors spoke at the Association of Educational Publishers’ Great American Education Forum in Washington, D.C. More than 400 attended the forum, and a panel of six publishing experts asked the advisors a series of questions.

Jeanne Century, director of science research at the University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, said Illinois Sen. Obama would push for school systems to bring broadband internet access into all K-12 schools.

"That would be the floor," Century said.

Lisa Graham Keegan, a former lawmaker and superintendent of public instruction in Sen. McCain’s home state of Arizona, said that while school leaders struggle with shrinking operating budgets and teacher shortages, technology could supplement educators’ daily lessons. She added that qualified teachers could never be replaced by advanced classroom technology.

"We could potentially have a perfect storm of success here," said Graham Keegan, who has worked with McCain since his 2000 presidential bid. "You can enhance what a teacher does with technology."

Asked if McCain had taken a position on broadband internet access in schools, Graham Keegan said the senator had not yet released his stance on classroom technology. At a news conference after the forum, she said that position would be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Century said school officials should encourage students at all grade levels to use the web to research and supplement reading assignments and daily homework.

"These are skills about problem solving," she said.

Using internet access to communicate with students from across the globe, Century said, would broaden children’s understanding of other cultures.

"We have the technology to do that now," she said. "We need to work with the world, because we can do this now."

The president or other federal officials could promote more technology-based education, but long-term changes would largely be up to principals, superintendents, and school board members, Graham Keegan said.

"What we need is for schools to want to incorporate technology," she said.

McCain and Obama differed on teacher merit pay programs. Obama would oppose any system that tied "teacher bonuses to student scores," Century said, but would back programs that rewarded educators for becoming highly qualified educators. McCain would fully support a pay-for-performance incentive model, Graham Keegan said. Paying teachers extra according to data from test results, she said, would be the only reliable method to reward educators who stood out among their peers.

Graham Keegan said McCain’s education stances would "violate existing policies and will offend certain groups," adding that he was skeptical of teacher unions’ "one-size-fits-all" contracts that provided little flexibility for school districts.

Both education advisors said the candidates would alter the federal No Child Left Behind Act. McCain’s Education Department would conduct a thorough study of what programs and initiatives were working best under NCLB and eliminate all but the most effective programs, which could cut costs to local school districts, Graham Keegan said.

"You can’t focus on everything simultaneously and do anything well," Graham Keegan said.

Century said Obama would support more class time for social studies, art, physical education, and science—four areas that have been greatly reduced or eliminated at K-12 schools since NCLB was enacted in 2002. The law requires every school in the country to be 100-percent proficient in math and reading by the 2013-14 academic year—a goal some educators say is unlikely, if not impossible. 

Century said NCLB was "insufficiently funded and poorly implemented," failing to provide school officials with resources needed to meet the law’s rigorous demands. She said Obama’s education policy would modify many aspects of NCLB, including adding emphasis to teacher recruitment, retainment, and more consistent professional development.

"It’s more than tinkering around the edges of NCLB," Century said, adding that Obama’s education officials would aim to broaden student assessments if he wins the White House. "It’s more than identifying one or two strategies."

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Association of Educational Publishers