Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards rolled out a program for reforming primary education in the United States on Friday, proposing to pay teachers up to $15,000 more in high poverty areas and initiating universal preschool. Edwards detailed the proposals, which also include longer school years and overhauling the No Child Left Behind education law, in a speech at Brody Middle School in Des Moines.
He called the federal law enacted by the Bush administration "a case study in what's broken in Washington, D.C." and said it needs to be radically reformed, to which he received the largest applause from a crowd of 300, largely supporters and school staff, who filled the school auditorium.
"It's a needlessly punitive arbitrary harsh approach to a genuine need of our schools," he said.
Rather than requiring students to take standardized tests, Edwards said assessments that measure higher-order thinking skills must be developed, including open-ended essays, oral examinations, projects and experiments.
Revamping the No Child Left Behind law
Edwards, who voted for the No Child Left Behind law when he represented North Carolina in the Senate, said he's seen over several years how it was poorly implemented and underfunded.
"It's a combination of the way it was implemented and the administration's failure to fund it, failure to provide resources for schools ... and the failure to provide help to schools to turn them around, those things in combination have made it a problem," he said.
Edwards said giving all children an equal chance to get a quality education is a commitment that is at the core of his plan to build a country "where everyone has a chance to succeed."
His plan would cost $7 billion a year initially and increase in cost. He said it would be funded by collecting capital gains taxes currently not paid and closing offshore tax loopholes.
Edwards said schools are still separate and unequal 50 years after a Supreme Court ruling required desegregation in public schools.
"No longer legally separated by race, our children are sorted by economics, often with a racial or ethnic dimension. At the same time, our children are preparing for unprecedented global economic competition," Edwards said in the policy statement.
Proposal for universal preschool
Edwards' plan calls for federal funding for the creation of universal preschool for all children when they turn 4. The preschools will teach skills students will need in school, including language abilities and introductions to early math, reading and other academic concepts.
The program, which will be voluntary, will begin in low-income neighborhoods where schools are struggling. Tuition would be charged on a sliding scale based on family income and waived for children from low-income families.
Edwards also proposed creation of a national program to promote health screening for problems related to speech, hearing, vision, dental and learning disabilities. The program would promote home visits by nurses to 50,000 low-income new parents.
Edwards also said he would raise teacher pay by up to $15,000 for teachers in high-poverty areas.