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Are the Presidential Candidates Weak on Education?


Americans ranked education as first or second on the national priority list leading up to the 2000 presidential election. Now it appears to be a marginal issue for presidential candidates, who are spending more time pushing their views on the war in Iraq, health care, immigration, and energy issues.

While few of the candidates have spent much time articulating their positions on education, the topic is crucial to other issues that dominate the presidential debates, Arthur Levine writes in this Education Week Commentary.

The national media and the private sector are important catalysts for getting candidates to address education in their campaigns, Mr. Levine argues. Several projects are under way to bring the issue to the forefront. But if education continues its slide from the national agenda, says Mr. Levine, weak and inequitable schools will result.

What do you think can be done to ensure that education remains on the top of the political agenda?


I think a better question is should education be on the top of the political agenda? Education "reform" has been the buzz for decades. Curriculla chages, shorter, then longer hours in the classroom, free breakfasts and lunches, Head Start, and all day kindergarten are just a few of the "reforms". Each "new" idea adds a little, subtracts a little, and pretty much leaves the status quo. Politicians are generally not educators. They do not do the research, nor do they stand in the classroom every day. Politicians look at the end products and sometimes analyse the results themselves, or more often, read the analysis of a staff that reads the results of research.
Politicians assign value and create budgets for education. They use words like reform to sound caring and concerned. Government officials rise and fall on issues and education makes a handy issue. Accountability makes the politician sound practical. They are accounting for the vast sums of taxpayer money that is earmarked for education. What is left out, or behind perhaps, is that the United States educates more of its' citizens, and to a higher level than any other nation. Government should begin keeping its' promises to education and leave the ducating to the people that do it. Education should not be a political football, toosed about by people who really know very little about what they are tossing about.

Unfortunately, the most comprehensive program politicians have come up with, NCLB, is an utter disaster. When educators ask for assistance and resources, we need to have clearer goals. Equity is a poor choice because it cannot be achieved. We need to go after true excellence at all levels with added resources for those most in need. But learning opportunities outside of education are too unequal to create parity.

Educators need to be more assertive about injecting ourselves into the national debate. I do not understand how a group of our size has permitted outselves to be so thoroughly marginalized.

A key goal for me is scrapping NCLB and starting anew. However, this time around, teachers need to be more coherent and forceful about our views of what constitutes good education. For a start, I'd like to see a 'widening' of curricula with art, music, foreign languages, physical education, and electives restored. I'd like to see high schools offer alternative options such as quality vocational training.

I'm really impressed with Bill Richardson. In the UTube/CNN debate, his initial reaction to NCLB was to scrap it. He seems to have a real understanding, as well as experience, working with public schools and knowing what many of the real issues are!

What group of Americans ranked education first or second? What...no one ranked it third! What survey is Levine citing? Oh wait, it's one before the 2000 Presidential election. That's when oil wasn't approaching $80 a barrel, there was no war on terror, immigration wasn't viewed as a problem, and many families still had company health care plans. This was before Bush and the Republicans came to full power.

Every American sees the increased cost of their health care, and feels the effect of gas prices directly as well as in the costs associated with the transport of goods, especially food. Consider the local cost of illegal aliens on schools, hospitals and other public programs and presto immigration is an issue. Then there's the burden of an increasing National Debt brought on by the Iraq war. These are money issues that effect EVER American directly.

Most Americans don't have children in school, so why should they be concerned. Their only concern is how much they're paying in school taxes. Besides look at what Bush and the Congress, Democrats included, gave us...NCLB. Maybe it's better if they leave education alone.

I don't disagree with Mr. Levine's assertions that education needs to be on the national agenda. But it's not that hard how to figure out why education is not a big issue in this campaign? Listen to what the public wants then find a way to pander to their concerns. How else will you be elected?

Our legislator's are only out of touch with the current problems and successes in education because they are listening to the ideologues who have a personal ax to grind. They oppose standards, testing and accountability which are crucial to the success of education in America. Legislators, teacher training programs, boards of education and administrators and teachers need to stop blocking NCLB which they do by half-heartedly approaching its goals.

On one hand, we hear how schools, educators, curriculla and the like need to show rigor in educational progression; however, I think the lack of campaign focus may cause lag time in productive desicion making. Our country's youth
SHOULD NOT be left behind; therefore, those who lead us MUST ensure that a strong anchor is in place to effectively tow our educational system through the 21st century and beyond.

My grandparents ran a school in Lansing, Mi in the 40's. Funding (what little there was came from the local neighborhood). They were the school. They received no retirement from it. My Dad was am employee of GM. He quit school in the 9th grade. He got his GED and went onto community college where he did well in electronics. The students that passed thru that little school all had jobs, bought homes and had good lives. Isn't that what education is supposed to be about? Creating individuals who make communities, which thrive and produce?

My grandparents had no college credentials, no official schooling yet they were able to produce individuals who were able to enter the work market place, find a niche and succeed.

I graduated from high school in 1970. I attended community college and university. My life path led me elsewhere than academia . And 37 years later I don’t recognize education as a vocation but strictly a business. As a parent and concerned citizen, I have read several school district’s policy & procedure manuals. There is the problem with education today. The teacher is the frontline soldier and the teacher has to be a lawyer to protect themselves and the student. When did we lose sight these are children that we are sending to these institutions which are beginning to resemble jails and modification centers? I have read NCLB mostly from beginning to end (have you read the NCLB?). It had hope and opportunity in it BUT - it is self evident that state and local school boards treated this as a threat to their autonomy and instead of a cooperating effort from top to bottom it’s every man for himself! Education is HUGE business and power and money are at stake. And what is that line “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” God bless us and goodluck to us all.

NCLB is indeed a business bonanza. It is a huge profit for the testing companies that create and grade the "proficiency" tests that are used to "grade" our schools, school districts, and the nations teachers.
NCLB demands steadily improving proficiensy scores towards the goal of 100% proficiency by the school year that will begin in just six more years. This proficiency is measured by tests that cannot guarantee accuracy anywhere near 100%. This means that the perfection that the law seeks is being measured by imperfect measures at best. The ever-popular S.A.T.'s reported scoring errors on 30% of tests taken in 2005 and, to this day, has beenm unable to explain what happened. The suggestion was that test answers sheets may have been affected by high humidity, making them difficult to score accurately.
NCLB did threaten the local autonomy of schools and districts and the authority and judgement of the individual teachers. Teachers were clearly told that they were not professional enough and that standardized tests were the key to educational reform.
Money and time that can and should be spent on teaching our children is being spent on testing and classifying our children. There could have been new classrooms, media centers, libraries, and a couple of football stadiums built over the last six years, but politicians said we needed higher standards and accountability. The main tool of accountability is testing that is, best part of all, accounatble to nobody.

Bill Richardson, like many other governors,knows well the difficulties that the states have had in interpretting the provisions of NCLB. This legislation is an infringement by the Federal Government on the jurisdictions of the state and local governments. If it were not for the heavy handedness of the federal department of education, some sort of real educational issues might have been addressed.

I want a president that is weak on education.

The federal government shouldn´t even be involved.

I don´t even think state government should be involved, except to provide vouchers to families.

Education is as personal as religion.

Why should education be at the top of the agenda?
Candidates invariably discuss the subject in platitudes.

This is understandable. Except with regard to the need for more funds, there is little agreement among educators on what policies are needed to improve education and what improvement means. Indeed, there is disagreement on how many problems in education may be traced to conditions outside the schools themselves. There is disagreement as to whether many aspects of education really need improvement.

Even if educators showed a reasonably long-term unanimity of opinion of needs--a virtual impossibility considering the amorphous state of educational research and its unavoidable connection with politics--the knowledge provided to the government would have to undergo a transition to "usable knowledge," a watered down knowledge that could satisfy people and groups reflecting different social and political orientations.

So perhaps we should be happy to keep education at a lower profile for a while.

I am dismayed by the misuse of some of these commentators' grammar and punctuation skills.

Should education be at the top of a political agenda?

Certainly we benefit from the national standards to ensure every American school addresses grade level expectations. State standards (ideally)refine those national precedents to their own regional needs.

NCLB attempts to reward schools with funding IF students are "making the grade", so to speak.

Unfortunately, because schools are not run as "big business", many are unsuccessful in managing money. Likewise, because many school board members are not educators, they believe schools should be run as businesses with the outcome being higher test scores.

I attended a teacher conference a few years back. The guest speaker admitted that in his zeal to inspire teachers to raise test scores, he'd used an analogy about what a poor product was being put out by the American school industry. "If American companies were producing what schools are producing, we'd all be out of business."
A teacher asked, "You sell icecream, don't you?" Yes, came the reply. "Do you make blueberry icecream?" Again, yes. "And you probably choose only the best berries for your icecream, don't you?" Oh, boy, he saw where this was going. Again, yes, but more sheepishly. "Well, Mr. Smith, we don't have the luxury of sorting through and picking only the best berries; we have to use all the berries provided us to produce our icecream."

NCLB and other reward fundings do not address the wide array of issues surrounding the school system. Money and politics are not and will never be a quick fix. There are districts that are smack-dab in the middle of high crime areas whose children worry more about survival, care, and food than practicing their ABC's. These children are often being raised by people other than their own parents. Their society does not provide the emotional health they need to learn.

As our economy goes, so do our school funds. When voters turn down tax increases, it is not a vote against schools. It is a vote against confidence in the system to be wisely using money that is already there!

There are too many contributing factors to a child's education to point the finger at one politician or branch of government and say, "Fix our problems!" It is first the responsibility of the parents, families, teachers, support staff, administration and communities to ensure a proper education for its adults of tomorrow.

Whoa Ramona--you can disagree, but you need to get some of your facts straight. First, No Child Left Behind doesn't attempt to reward schools for making the grade. It continues the Title I program--which was initiated to equalize some of those poverty-related factors that you allude to. Rather than requiring a "quick fix," it has added accountability measures some thirty years or so down the road. And because the purpose of schools is to educate, it provides accountability measures that look at learning.

I read on a disability related blog a number of parent comments taking exception to the blueberry ice cream analogy. First, some kids have long been picked over (and sent to special ed, or special schools, or just ignored). Second--being treated as a defective ingredient is more than a little insulting.

I´m a fan of Ron Paul´s position on education - return complete control to local jurisdictions.

Ultimately, I hope a politician will one day have the nerve to call for universal vouchers-all children should have the opportunity to go to a school of their own choosing, one that best matches their own needs and desires.

One size fits all is intellectually dishonest and ultimately harmful to a young person´s development. If rich people are "smart" enough to choose the best school for their children (private schools w/o government standards or assessments) why don´t we give the same opportunity to all parents?

It is bigoted to assume that poor / minority parents aren´t smart enough to use educational vouchers wisely.

A Study of Fiscal Autonomy for Public Schools
Every year school boards are faced with asking their governing bodies
for revenue they need to continue the services they provide and every
year they are short changed.
By giving school boards taxing authority, school boards would have
the authority to decide what is going to happen in their schools and
to generate the revenue necessary to make that happen.
Revenue for K-12 public schools comes primarily from state
governments, local governments and the federal government.
A solution to the financing of public elementary and secondary schools may lay within the late Justice Thurgood Marshall’s descending opinion in U.S. Supreme Court SAN ANTONIO SCHOOL DISTRICT v. RODRIGUEZ, 411 U.S. 1 (1973)

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Frederick Horton: A Study of Fiscal Autonomy for Public Schools Every year read more
  • Rita: I´m a fan of Ron Paul´s position on education - read more
  • Margo/Mom: Whoa Ramona--you can disagree, but you need to get some read more
  • Ramona/Teacher: I am dismayed by the misuse of some of these read more
  • Roy Nasstrom, Professor Emeritus: Why should education be at the top of the agenda? read more




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