12/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain's Education Plan is Scary as Hell

Reforming America's inadequate public school system--a crucial priority for our country's future-- should not be undertaken with a failed ideology. The centerpiece of John McCain's education plan is to apply the epically failed deregulated free market economic principles to our schools. Very bad idea. Last week, even Alan Greenspan conceded, "the whole intellectual edifice [the modern risk-management, free market paradigm] collapsed in the summer of last year."

The thrust of McCain's education plan on his campaign website reads:

John McCain believes parents should be empowered with school choice to send their children to the school that can best educate them just as many members of Congress do with their own children. He finds it beyond hypocritical that many of those who would refuse to allow public school parents to choose their child's school would never agree to force their own children into a school that did not work or was unsafe. They can make another choice.

John McCain will place parents and children at the center of the education process, empowering parents by greatly expanding the ability of parents to choose among schools for their children. He believes all federal financial support must be predicated on providing parents the ability to move their children, and the dollars associated with them, from failing school [sic].

McCain's deification of choice offers an empty reshuffling of a failed deck, not meaningful, raise-all-boats reform that takes into account the on-the-ground realities for students and teachers. His plan, which leans heavily on privatization, would abet a host of nightmare scenarios, as articulated on the NEA blog and in an email to 2.5 million members titled, "The Real Halloween Horror: John McCain's 'Free' Market School System":

Teachers will disappear.
Federal funding for teacher training, class size reduction, and other teacher hiring will disappear - and, as a result, so will your children's teachers... [Turnover will increase, which] means there will be fewer [experienced] teachers who truly know your kids and understand their needs... [we will see] larger class sizes, and more and more students will slip through the cracks.

And this doesn't even include the "spending freeze" that McCain relentlessly champions.

Subjects will disappear.
Under McCain's risky "free" market scheme, which ties school and teacher rewards and sanctions to standardized test scores in reading and math, students will spend hundreds of hours on mindless, multiple-choice tests - and lose the opportunity for an enriching, well-rounded education... Subjects like science, social studies, writing, physical education, art, and music will disappear.

Since the 2002 implementation of No Child Left Behind, serious curriculum-narrowing to meet the onerous bureaucratic demands of NCLB's testing regime has struck many schools.

School services will disappear.

Children rely on a wealth of school services to keep them safe, healthy and focused, so they can learn and grow. McCain's plan slashes funding for everything from school safety to textbooks, building maintenance, afterschool programs, childcare services, Head Start, and guidance counselors...The only increases McCain proposes are for private school vouchers that will further drain money from public schools.

Public school critics might say that investing in programs like students' mental health, building maintenance, etc. would be akin to "throwing money" at a hopeless problem. The reality is that well-spent dollars can provide resources and support that make or break many students' educational experiences. For example, at my first teaching job in the Bronx, only two guidance counselors were on staff to serve nearly 1,100 students. The lack of access to a counselor hurt many at-risk students incalculably.

Teachers will compete, students will lose.
McCain's plan will inject Wall Street-style, "free" market competition into our schools. Teachers will receive pay raises based on nothing other than the standardized test scores of their students. Teachers whose classes score higher get higher pay - pitting teachers against each other in a relentless competition for limited salaries.

Accountability is welcome, but not when the word is used as code for limitless obsession with standardized testing. Senator Obama too has welcomed a discussion on performance pay, but he has also made it clear that it will work only with teacher buy-in, which means a far more flexible model than McCain's Faustian cash-for-stats bargain.

There are many reasons why McCain's policies are wrong for America. His out-of-touch education plan is icing on a baked cake.

Dan Brown is a teacher and the author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle.