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June 22, 2012 3:39 PM Won’t Somebody Think About the Children?

By Daniel Luzer

Visitors to the Washington Monument now see an interesting installation. Lots and lots of school desks.

This is a display representing the 857 students who (statistically) drop out of American high schools every hour of every school day. This is a project of the College Board’s Don’t Forget About Ed campaign, which urges presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to make education a more important part of their campaigns. It’s not going to happen.

That’s because the Obama and Romney pretty much agree on education.

College Board’s explains the campaign like this:

America’s education system is in turmoil. Right now, our schools are performing at a level far below almost every other major industrialized nation. And the statistics continue to get worse every year. How we educate our children affects not only their own chances for success and prosperity, it also directly affects America’s economy, health, and national security.
As we head towards the 2012 Presidential election, the issue of education is underplayed on the campaign trail. The candidates say they care about education, but what seems to be missing from their speeches are real, tangible, effective solutions for turning our education system in the right direction.
Join us in having your voice heard. Sign the petition today to help make sure the candidates Don’t Forget Ed.

In fact, both candidates already ready have “solutions” for education. Here are Mitt Romney’s ideas. here are Barack Obama’s.

Both candidates have education platforms reflecting what they believe to be “real, tangible, effective solutions for turning our education system in the right direction.” But their education ideas aren’t ever going to become important to the presidential campaign. Because there’s no controversy here.

As Diane Ravitch wrote recently in the New York Review of Books

Apart from vouchers and the slap at teacher certification, Obama’s Race to the Top program for schools promotes virtually everything Romney proposes—charters, competition, accountability, evaluating teachers by student test scores. If anything, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been as outspoken on behalf of charters and test-based accountability as Mitt Romney. And, like Romney, Duncan has disdained the issue of reducing the number of students per teacher.

Ravitch is a controversial figure, but she’s not wrong. Whether or not these reform ideas are any good is perhaps a matter for debate, but not between Romney and Obama. There are a few other differences (Romney wants to return student loans to the banks, for instance) but the only really important matter of disagreement is the former Massachusetts governor’s support for school vouchers.

They’re not going to debate (or emphasize) education policy for the same reason they’re not going to worry about America’s policy toward Cuba (another “serious issue”): they can’t argue about it.

It might be useful for improving public policy if education played a more important role in the campaign but there’s simply no incentive for either candidate to do this. They agree on almost everything, and that’s something no political candidate wants to emphasize, even if his ideas are good and widely accepted. Unless we want to make this the voucher campaign, there’s no way education is going to matter much in this race.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Crissa on June 23, 2012 4:36 AM:

    How can we, when Republicans are not interested in results? They want ideological purity instead.

  • tcinaz on June 25, 2012 4:48 PM:

    Daniel, I taught in public schools in Oregon for 34 years (I retired in 2004), so I suppose I have a reasonable perspective on what's going on in at least that corner of Education. The problem in American education from my perspective is in a series of assumptions held by decision-makers that are far removed from actual education. Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, G W Bush, and President Obama all assume the problem to be correctable by playing with statistics. People in classrooms, students and teachers alike, aren't statistics nor are they statistically driven, except as they are driven to be in response to the leadership of those, and others driven by the decisions of those, listed above. Students are first of all individuals, and while statistics may describe collectively what they do, they do not often accurately account for how an individual student and teacher produced that statistic. Of course, there are an infinite number of ways any one teacher and student interact to get to a certain statistical result. But the assumption of all educational reform is that this result can be codified, replicated and institutionalized to some positive effect. That is both true in some limited way, but foolish as an overarching methodology. Good teaching has proven itself to be an art form for millennia driven by individual personality rather that mass production. Republicans have driven this entire discussion since "A Nation at Risk" that was a dubious assessment of American education at the time it was published in 1983. Numerous studies have suggested that American schools were not failing at the level postulated in "Risk", but the consequences of the report exacerbated the issue throughout American schools until "Risk" became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It demanded reform of a system that might not be failing as seriously as it concluded, because it could not account for the ways in which schools and individual teachers were succeeding. It is in the studies of parents who were satisfied with their own children's schools as successful, while the same respondents saw schools in general as failing, that we see the flaw in the overall analysis. This reflects a learned response to information beyond the actual experience of those expressing it. In the end, the entire analysis of American public schools has been poisoned by a Republican desire to reform those schools into propaganda outlets for Republicans rather than institutions dedicated to teaching thinking as a skill that might not lead to any predetermined conclusion. The final point in all of this is that what is being demanded of American public schools is antithetical to what good schools in a functioning democracy should in fact do.