In the last of three speeches about “some ideas for our country’s direction,” potential Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) outlined a sweeping education plan to give every student the opportunity to go to college and to place a good teacher in every classroom. In his November 21 speech at the University of Maryland, Edwards called education the “key to opportunity,” and listed improvements that he would make to strengthen education from kindergarten through the 12th grade level and open the doors at America’s colleges and universities.
For elementary and secondary schools, Edwards focused on better teachers and listed initiatives to transform American high schools. As a way to better reward teachers and improve teacher quality in our hardest-to-staff schools, Edwards proposed a nationwide program that would pay for the education costs of college students who make a five-year commitment to teach in high-need areas and a $5,000 home mortgage credit for teachers who buy homes in the poor communities where they teach. He also suggested increasing the pay of teachers with the toughest assignments in the poorest districts and doubling the current $3 billion the federal government spends on teacher quality.
Edwards’ recommendations to transform high schools include increased funding for public school choice, smaller school size, and rigorous, college preparatory coursework for all students. He also called for doubling the funding for GEAR UP and TRIO, two programs with proven track records for helping disadvantaged students progress through the academic pipeline from middle school through college. Currently, these programs only reach 10 percent to 20 percent of eligible students.
In its report Every Child a Graduate, the Alliance for Excellent Education made many of the same points Edwards argued for in his speech, namely, greater funding for GEAR UP and TRIO as well as financial incentives to recruit and retain teachers in hard-to-staff districts. Some of Sen. Edwards’ recommendations were taken from his own experience while working his way through college. He stressed that the experiences and support from which he benefited are not available to enough of today’s students:
Without [the] combination of support from loving parents, terrific teachers, and public schools at every level, I would never be standing here today. Unfortunately, that combination is getting harder and harder to find in America. Too many kids are trapped in schools that don’t work. Too many kids who beat the odds and succeed in school can’t afford to go on to college, even as kids with the most advantages get special privileges. We have to change that. In America, no child should be able to take success for granted, and every child should be able to go as far as his God-given talents and hard work will take him.
Read the Complete Speech