Obama And McCain's Plans On Education

where they stand cynthia bowers raven schools education
To help you make an informed decision in the presidential election, we'll be devoting a large part of our broadcasts between now and November 4 to telling you where the candidates stand on major issues - from the war in Iraq to health insurance to education … and a lot more. Each piece will be an in-depth look at the issues facing the 44th president. This installment: public education. CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports on how the proposed education policies of Barack Obama and John McCain would affect your family.

The Issue

When it comes to sports, whether it's on the basketball court or on the ice, high school seniors Brit Schneiders and Raven Gary know what it's like to be the best.

Both girls star on Illinois state championship teams, but when it comes to the public schools they each attend, these two aren't even in the same league.

Raven's high school, John Marshall, is on Chicago's tough West Side. It's part of the third largest school district in the country, Chicago Public Schools, where students average a meager 17 out of 36 on the ACT - the all important college entrance exam.

But the average at Marshall is only 14. The graduation rate hovers around 50 percent. Less than 8 percent of Marshall students read at grade level and fewer than 3 percent are at grade level in math.

"I'm goin' to college," said Raven, who is an A-student. But she and her mom Sharon Williams say it's been a real struggle at a school that doesn't even have enough textbooks to send home with students.

"When look at other schools ... do you feel ripped off, and why do you think the country is letting that happen?" Bowers asked Raven.

"Maybe they don't see the big picture," she said. "We need the tools to learn."

At Brit's public high school just a half hour north, New Trier, there's no shortage of textbooks - parents buy them. And excellence is expected in this 4,000-student district, which spends $17,000 per pupil, compared to $10,000 in Chicago Public Schools.

At New Trier, some of the course offerings sound like those at an Ivy league University: Sports and Entertainment Marketing, Sequential Art and Animation, Zoology and scuba diving.

New Trier students average a 27 out of 36 on the ACT. The graduation rate is 99 percent. So is the percentage of kids who go on to college.

"How lucky do you feel when you think about what you're able to walk in and get versus what they're getting?" Bowers asked Brit.

"We're really lucky here," Brit said. "A lot of people at New Trier take it for granted - like I do sometimes. You don't think that a lot of people have it a lot worse, even in our own city, Chicago."

There's no question American schools are falling behind. The national graduation rate is only 70 percent, less than 50 percent for students of color. American 15-year-olds rank 19th out of 40 countries in science and 28th in math.

The Candidates

Both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain say getting students prepared to compete in the global economy must be a priority.

Their big difference? The role the federal government should play.

Obama proposes adding $18 billion a year to the education budget - expanding programs like Head Start.

"Every dollar we invest in that we end up getting huge benefits with improved reading scores, reduced drop-out rates, reduced delinquency rates," Obama said at Wednesday's debate.

He wants to fight the drop-out rate by spending more on "intervention programs" beginning in middle school.

And to help increase the number of teachers, he proposes 40,000 college scholarships to encourage undergrads to enter the classroom.

Unlike Obama, McCain also supports vouchers that give public money to families that send their kids to private schools. He wants to expand programs such as the one in Washington, D.C., which offers $7,500 scholarships to 1,900 low-income students that gives them an alternative to public school.

"What is the advantage in a low-income area of sending a child to a failed school and that being your only choice?" McCain asked at the debate.

He says to he wants pay teachers based on merit, and make it easier to recruit teachers from other professions.

On the whole, McCain believes most school-related issues should be handled at the local level.

Both candidates believe more money isn't only answer.

"You will find that some of the worst school systems in America get the most money per student," McCain said at the final presidential debate.

"Parents are going to have to show more responsibility. They've got to turn off the TV set, put away the video games," Obama said.

The Impact

What chances do these proposals have of succeeding in the real world?

When it comes to charter schools which both candidates support is mixed, but Raven's family is excited about the one her little sister just got into.

"Are you jealous - or happy for her?" Bowers asked.

"I'm happy for her, 'cause I don't want her to go through the same thing I have to go through just to get an education," Raven said.

Head Start, which Obama supports has been operating for 35 years, and while it has supporters and detractors, there is wide agreement that getting to kids early is crucial to their further success.

When it comes to vouchers, the Washington, D.C.,-based program McCain supports has shown promise. Ninety percent of graduates go on to college, compared to 30 percent in the districts' public schools.

The families admit to skepticism about political promises.

"We hear it every election, and then another four years go by and we're back to - you know," said Brit's father, Jeff.

"Just come up with some sort of programs that make it a little easier for them to get all they need," said Sharon Williams, Raven's mother..

"They need to care about us more," Raven said. "Because what if one of us wants to be president one day? Can't be the president if you don't know math."

For her part, Brit realizes this season may be her last playing hockey - and that's okay. Her academics - and her family - will get her through college.

But Raven is under tremendous pressure to shine on the court this year. An athletic scholarship may be her best chance at college.

She hopes her little brothers and sister get a better shot.