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Bill Clinton and Jamie Lee Curtis Get Involved in Ed Politics

"America is only as strong as her schools...As our schools go, so goes our country."

That's the conclusion of a new ad by ED in '08, which will start running today in seven key election states: Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin. ED in '08 (which in this ad is referring to itself by its Strong American Schools moniker), spent $5 million on these ads, called "One Nation Left Behind." Watch the ad here.

In the ad, actress Jamie Lee Curtis provides the voice-over, and ticks off the names of countries that are passing us--countries like Finland, South Korea, France, and Denmark. She urges viewers to go to Strong American Schools' website to learn about how children in the U.S. stack up against their peers internationally.

The ad hits the airwaves just as the nation's governors are wrapping up their annual summer meeting, held this year in Philadelphia. They are an important group of people to watch, as they have more control over their states' schools than the presidents do. This was a meeting that was more sparsely attended than in years past (budget woes and politics kept about half of the governors home) and only three of the 14 governors who sit on the education committee actually attended Sunday's committee meeting, which focused on teacher quality. (Kudos to Maine Gov. John Baldacci, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry--the committee vice-chair--and committee chairman Donald Carcieri, Rhode Island's governor, who attended.). Most of the time was spent celebrating the National Governors Association's 100th year in existence, and dealing with the pressing issues of surging energy prices and a weakening economy. But education wasn't completely ignored.

On Saturday, former President Bill Clinton, in an hour-long speech about a myriad of topics, called for a rewrite of No Child Left Behind and for the NGA to become a serious player with the next administration and Congress over its reauthorization. Clinton said the governors must come up with a "substantive" platform for changes. But this has been a difficult task for the governors, given how divisive NCLB is and how the NGA doesn't like to get involved when its members can't reach consensus. When NCLB was reauthorized, the governors were barely in the picture. Will they be now? I asked that question of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican and the outgoing NGA chairman. Yes, he said, "preliminarily", an unspoken acknowledgment that the devil is always in the details.

The other theme developing in Philadelphia is a growing interest in international benchmarking. There will be more to come on this later. But that should make ED in '08 happy.

My takeaway from this NGA meeting is that education will continue to struggle for traction this election cycle, because it even struggles for attention in a roomful of governors who spend nearly half of their states' budgets on public education.

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