Injecting the Education Continuum in the Campaigns

Kudos to Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik for today’s piece on how the 18 active 2008 presidential candidates are talking about education — primarily higher education.  If the early results are any indication, it seems that college access and student loans are THE message with regard to education platforms.

* It is easy to define.  Most Americans understand the value of a college education.  They know college is expensive.  They know student loans are available.  These are terms of issues the average voter understands and can relate to.
* It’s a hot PR topic.  The New York State Attorney General has made student loans (and student lender relationships) the scandal of the day.  It is in the news, it is the focus of congressional hearings.  From a communications standpoint, it is the current wave that most need to at least test out.
* It’s relatable.  The rich can afford to go to any college.  Funny thing is, most Americans perceive themselves as being in the middle class, even if demographically they are not.  When you start talking about fairness and ensuring the middle class have access and funding to attend the college of their choice.  When those swing voters in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, Florida and the like here the argument that we need to make college more affordable for the average American, they think the candidates are talking to them.

What’s missing, though, is an equally passionate debate on the education continuum.  Postsecondary education is important for virtually every student in America.  But what will the candidates do to ensure that students are prepared for college?  How will they deal with the 1.1 million high school dropouts each year?  How about the 30-50% of college students who have to take remedial courses to get up to speed?  And how will they ensure that students are gaining knowledge and skills related to what they want to do with their lives?

The general silence on K-12 issues at this stage of the presidential campaigns can only mean one of two things.  Either all candidates agree that NCLB is essentially steering us in the right direction, and requires only the moderate tinkering Congress and its influencers are discussing or they simply don’t have answers (or even thoughts) on how to further improve primary and secondary education in the United States.

Unfortunately, it is probably the latter, and not the former.  So I’ve got three pieces of advice for the candidates, Democrat and Republican, to remember when crafting their messages:
* As in generations past, we all want to see our kids do better than us.  The key to that is education.  Making sure they are achieving at grade level by fourth grade.  Instilling independent thinking in the middle grades.  And advocating for both rigor and relevance in high school.  Success requires an education continuum, not just a college degree.
* K-12 education touches every U.S. citizen.  We all went to school.  We all pay taxes to support our schools.  We all have or know of children in the schools.  Promise us you will ensure that those kids are getting the best and that our taxes are being well spent.  And tell us how you will measure it and hold policymakers and schools and teachers accountable.
* Education is not just a learning issue, it is a work issue.  Too many people put school in one bucket, career in the other.  A strong K-12 education is necessary to a strong, effective workforce.  Whether you be wearing a blue or a white collar, you need core reading, math, problem solving, and teamwork skills to succeed.  Want a good job, you need a good education.  And it is up to the President, the Congress, the Governors, the Mayors, and the Superintendents to ensure that our schools are delivering such an education.  It is the only way to truly keep our economy, and our nation, strong.

Now is the stage of the campaign where candidates start telling us what they stand for and what they believe in.  And their are few issues that define character and a campaign than education and education improvement.  Here’s wishing these ideas start making their way into stump speeches and campaign commercials.

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