September 2, 2008
Joe Biden may bed down with a teacher every night, but Sarah Palin, the woman John McCain has picked to be his vice presidential running mate, was born to two of them — her father taught middle school science and her mother worked as an education support provider in Alaska’s public schools for many years.
Though we know her pedigree, we don’t know much else about Palin and education, especially her views on national policy issues. There’s virtually nothing about schools on her official homepage as the governor of Alaska, and the policies she has supported do not seem to fall neatly into either of this year’s school improvement camps: the “Broader, Bolder Approach” and the “no excuses” philosophy espoused by backers of the Education Equality Project. In fact, because Alaska’s schools are so different from those in the rest of the nation — for practical reasons, there are thriving distance education and homeschooling movements, for example — Palin has had little opportunity as governor to participate in national-scale education policy discussions.
Here’s what little we do know: Palin pushed for Alaska to receive flexibility under No Child Left Behind’s accountability measures, citing its unique challenges as a largely rural state. When a national study named seven Alaska high schools as “dropout factories,” she volunteered to counsel students personally to stay in school. She has said that schools should “teach both” evolution and intelligent design in science classes. And she has said she favors abstinence-only sex education in schools. (Her teenage daughter is pregnant, she announced yesterday.)
At Education Week’s Campaign K-12 blog, Alyson Klein notes that Palin pushed for an overhaul to state funding mechanisms that brought more money to all schools, especially rural schools, and continued a statewide performance pay initiative, based on test scores, launched by her predecessor. Palin’s education platform for her 2006 gubernatorial bid, which I downloaded from that campaign’s now-defunct website on Friday, says she will continue to support the development of “new non-traditional programs” such as charter schools and alternative schools for troubled students. In the platform, Palin also says she will emphasize workforce readiness by developing vocational programs for younger students and encouraging state businesses to influence curriculum design and offer fieldwork placements. The platform is short on details, however: When it was released, the blog Alaska Pride called the platform “nebulous and even a little juvenile.”
In an interesting twist, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest educators union, which endorsed Obama earlier this summer, called Palin’s nomination “a pleasant surprise” because of Alaska schools’ increased funding under her watch and her opposition to using public funds to pay for private schools. The NEA has repeatedly criticized McCain’s education policy proposals.