Tonight's presidential nominees' debate is on foreign policy—so how much can we expect to hear about education?
Don't forget, both President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney were able to link K-12 policy to a question on assault weapons in the last debate. It's not that big a leap from, say, U.S.-Chinese relations to international competitiveness.
What lines or themes might we hear tonight when the nominees square off at Lynn University, in Boca Raton, Fla.?
Well, for starters, Obama—or his education secretary, Arne Duncan—have linked just about their entire prekindergarten-to-higher-education agenda to the goal of ensuring that by 2020, America has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
That goal, incidentally, comes from the president's very first address to Congress, back in 2009, in which he said his administration would "provide the support necessary for [the nation's young people] to complete college and meet a new goal: By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world." Full transcript here.
Duncan has repeated that 2020 goal a number of times, including in a speech to the "Mom Congress," a gathering in Washington earlier this year.
So what about Mitt Romney? In his most prominent speech on education this election season, Romney mentioned the need for the U.S. to improve educational outcomes to improve competitiveness:
"More than 150 years ago, our nation pioneered public education. We've now fallen way behind. Among developed countries, the United States comes in 14th of 34 in reading, 17th of 34 in science, and an abysmal 25th out of 34 in math. Our public education system is supposed to ensure that every child gets a strong start in life. Yet, one in four students fails to attain a high school degree. And in our major cities, half of our kids won't graduate. Imagine that." (It appears Romney is referring here to the 2009 PISA results.)
Romney expanded upon those ideas in the education chapter of his 2010 book No Apology, noting that the U.S. lags behind other countries in the number of degrees granted in science and engineering. He also wrote that some countries with larger average class sizes than the U.S. (such as South Korea) do better on international assessments—something Duncan has also pointed to in arguing for smartly targeted increases in class size.
Romney generated some controversy during a speech in Israel earlier this year, in which he essentially said that culture can help determine a country's economic success—implying, some argued, that certain cultures are better than others.
He makes a similar point in No Apology, in which he criticizes "progressives" who he says "reject universal truths and objective judgements." And he added, "Progressives de-emphasized the subjects that had previously been considered essential. Rather than teach the history of Western and American civilization, for example, they presented all the world's cultures to our children and insisted that none was superior to the others."
So will a debate over culture and how it should be taught—or international competitiveness—emerge tonight? Watch and see!