For educators and millions of other Americans, Barack Obama’s election as 44th president of the United States indicates that the nation is ready for change–in economic policy, in health care, and especially in education. With Democrats on track to gain at least five seats in the Senate and 19 in the House, according to projections at press time on Nov. 6, and with Democrats ahead of Republicans in gubernatorial elections 29 to 21, many reforms in student assessments, early education, and teacher incentives appeared to be on the horizon.
"We’re excited about President-elect Obama’s agenda; we think he presents a compelling and strong commitment to education and are looking forward to the opportunity to work with him to make the federal role more successful in providing our nation’s students with a 21st century education," said Michael A. Resnick, associate executive director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA).
With plans to increase Head Start and Early Head Start programs, increase teacher pay and provide better teacher training programs, incorporate 21st century skills into state assessments, support English-Language Learning and Disability programs, and rid the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of labeling schools as failures, the Democratic Party for Congress promises to change education to make students prepared to be leaders of the future. (See Democratic Agenda here).
In Tuesday’s election, Democrats netted at least 24 seats, with the GOP taking four seats from the Democrats, according to CNN projections.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Tuesday night she was confident Democrats would ride a "wave" of pro-Democratic sentiment across the country and add to their House majority, but declined to say by how much.
"Since endorsing Sen. Obama at its national convention in July, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) made more than four million contacts with its membership, including phone calls, mail, leaflets, and direct member-to-member contacts," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "States with a strong AFT and union presence made a decisive difference in the elections, not only in choosing the next president, but also in giving him a Congress to work with that will champion the concerns of working people and will support public education and other vital public services."
"We hope our new President will invest in America’s teachers, ensuring that they have command of the digital tools, technologies, and pedagogical skills that are so necessary to ensure the success of America’s students and this nation," said Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). "ISTE looks forward to partnering with the new administration and the new Congress to make the hopes and dreams of America’s students and educators come true."
At the state level, teachers and organizations such as the National Education Association (NEA) campaigned for education leaders and helped overturn many potentially damaging propositions for public schools.
In North Carolina, after a close race, Democratic Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue won over her opponent, Republican Mayor Pat McCrory of Charlotte; Gov. Chris Gregoire of Washington beat out Republican opponent Dino Rossi; and Delaware Democrat Jack Markell beat his Republican opponent, Bill Lee.
"Tuesday, we made history," said Gov. Perdue. "As a door closes on our past, a new one opens. Beyond that door is a new day; a fresh start. Our beginning is now."
Perdue, who plans to expand early childhood education initiatives and improve college scholarship programs, was backed by teachers’ union volunteers from North Carolina and other states, as well as the NEA.
The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) mounted a member-to-member GOTV effort to mobilize more than 800 volunteers across the state for campaigning.
"Educators across the country–especially here in the Tar Heel state–were energized. We’re very proud to have helped deliver our very own education family like Bev Perdue and Larry Kissell," said Sheri Strickland, president of the 65,000-plus-member NCAE.
"This is an incredible opportunity to begin to correct the failed education policies of the Bush administration and prepare our students to compete in a 21st century economy," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.
In Delaware, Jack Markell also intends to prepare students for the 21st century and has detailed plans for early education, K-12, and higher education.
Besides attracting higher quality teachers and strengthening vocational learning for students, Markell plans to increase parental engagement, concentrate more public education initiatives in formative years, and provide underprivileged children with additional programs and support networks in early education.
He also plans to use education dollars effectively and efficiently, create a balanced financial accountability system, introduce a better system of student evaluations, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of charter schools as part of his Education Resources and Accountability Plan.
Finally, Markell plans to improve High School Graduation Rates, introduce Early/Middle colleges to Delaware, establish more scholarships for students, and strengthen university research and development in higher education.
"Delaware voters are clamoring for change, and that’s what Democrats will give them," said Markell.
State ballots also had a major impact on education in this election, with many states offering initiatives that directly influenced education spending and programs.
In Massachusetts, voters turned down a proposal to eliminate the state’s income tax. The proposed law would have reduced the state personal income tax rate to 2.65 percent for all categories of taxable income for the tax year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2010.
While advocates of this proposal said that the state could benefit from less government spending, the proposal also would have cut funding for school programs and services.
It would have meant "a drastic reduction in state funding for local public schools, leading to teacher layoffs, school closings, and other cutbacks that would harm our children’s education," said Peter Meade, chair of the Coalition for Our Communities.
In Oregon, voters chose not to enact ballot measures widely opposed by education advocates. Measure 58 would have put a two-year cap on the amount of time English-language learners could receive instruction in their native languages, and stated that public school students who aren’t proficient in English "shall be immersed in English, not sidelined for an extended period of time, but mainstreamed with English-speaking students in the shortest time possible."
Measure 60 also was defeated. It said school districts would be prohibited from considering a teacher’s experience in the classroom when determining the teacher’s pay. Instead, salaries were to be set according to students’ standardized test scores.
The NEA, AFT, and the Oregon PTA mobilized against both of these proposals.
Finally, in Maryland, voters approved a measure to legalize slot machines in Anne Arundel, Cecil, and Worcester counties, Baltimore City, and state-owned property in Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland. The measure passed with a 59 percent approval. Now, half of the slot machines’ proceeds, or roughly $600 million a year, are slated to support public schools.
In spite of election results sought by the majority of educators, most experts say Democrats will have a hard time implementing some of their bolder initiatives, which will be hindered by the current sputtering economy.
"President-elect Obama faces considerable challenges–a severe economic crisis, a broken healthcare system, the needs of an aging population, enormous infrastructure strains, and American troops engaged in two wars," said AFT’s Weingarten. "But he is well-equipped to lead our country, which is unparalleled in its ability and determination to face such challenges."
Roekel of NEA offered this assessment: "Voters elected pro-education candidates at all levels…the election of 2008 was a milestone for our nation. Educators realize that the challenges facing our public schools today are complicated and complex. Creating schools we need for the 21st century will require a new commitment and a new partnership among federal, state, and local governments, as well as local communities.
"The 2008 election put in place many friends of education who can help us achieve that commitment and partnership. Now we must build on our hard work and continue the momentum toward a great public school for every child."
National School Boards Association
American Federation of Teachers
National Education Association
International Society for Technology in Education
North Carolina Association of Educators
Note to readers:
Don’t forget to visit the Leveraging the E-Rate resource center. Fueled by a growing need to prepare students for an increasingly global, 21st-century workforce, school leaders understand that access to school technology is more important than ever before. But as school budgets face cuts and re-evaluations in the midst of a struggling economy, many districts are concerned with their ability to pay for new technologies. Go to: Leveraging the E-Rate for Ed-Tech Success