Pundits Vs. Analysts on Ed

Is it or isn’t it?  Yesterday, the Ed in 08 folks held a forum up in New Hampshire, offering an impressive list of “pundits” discussing how education was becoming a key issue for the upcoming presidential elections.  Today, This Week in Education has a link to a CNS News story, where their “analysts” say education will not be a significant issue in 2008.  (http://www.crosswalk.com/news/11560325/)  Who’s right?  And does it matter?

At the end of the day, they are probably both right.  Education may be a top five issue when it comes to voter concerns, but it simply is not an issue that people vote on, particularly for presidential elections.  We’ll vote on the war.  On healthcare.  On the general economy.  Even for a balanced budget.  But education is viewed as a local issue.  The president may carry a rhetorical stick, but the vast majority of reforms, improvements and dollars are coming from state and local sources.  Governors and mayors and city councils get elected on education issues.  Not presidents.  As a result, education won’t be a significant issue in 2008.

But it can become a key issue in differentiating some of the presidential candidates (and that’s likely Ed in 08’s hope).  To date, Obama has done the most with the issue, calling for merit pay before the NEA and offering a fairly comprehensive education agenda earlier this month.  Others have dabbled in issues like preK or college loans.  Most have come out strongly against NCLB (even in GOP circles), particularly when it comes to testing.  That leaves a great deal of room to play in, position, and orate.

For months now, folks have been waiting for Ed in 08 to seize the podium as it intended this past spring, and really make the case for national leadership in education reform.  The organization has set a goal of advocating for three key issues with presidential candidates — 1) agreement on American education standards; 2) effective teachers in every classroom; and 3) more time and support for student learning.  Hardly the call to action that makes hearts skip a beat and convinces the citizenry to slay dragons with a butter knife.

Democrats want to advocate for education policy that aligns with the wishes and dreams of the NEA and AFT.  Republicans want to return education issues to the localities.  That leaves a wide lane for bold, strong action and rhetoric.

What would Eduflack be screaming on the stump?
1) A high school diploma is a non-negotiable that every student needs to obtain a meaningful job.
2) In the 21st century, every student needs some form of postsecondary education, be it community college, CTE training, or four-year institution.  A well-paying career requires postsec ed.
3) K-12 is no longer just an education issue.  It is an economic development issue.  If we want economic development, if we want good jobs, if we want job growth in our community, we need a strong K-12 system (and a strong PK-16 system would be even better).
4) Teaching is a hard job.  We need to make sure every classroom has a proven effective teacher, and that teacher has the support he or she needs to do the job (see Aspen’s Commission on NCLB for the blueprint on this one)
5) We only teach what works.  Proven effective rules the day.  Curriculum, teachers, and students must all show their worth and must demonstrate success.  The era of silver-bullet education and quick fixes is over.  It takes real work and proven effective instruction to do the job.
6) Education reform is a shared responsibility.  From the fed to the locality.  From teachers to parents.  From the CBOs to the business community.  We all have a role, and an obligation, in improving our public schools.
7) We need to publicize the successes.  We spend too much time talking about what’s going wrong in our schools.  We need to provide the megaphone to what is working, and use it a teaching and modeling tool.  We all benefit when we see what schools like ours and kids like our are doing to succeed.  And there’s a lot of good happening in our schools.

Yes, such messages are bound to offend some.  But isn’t that what bold communication is all about?  If we want to protect the status quo, we can speak in vague generalities with words that have muddled meaning and virtually no impact.  Improvement is reform.  Reform is change.  Change is rocking the boat.  

For the past few decades, public education has been home to the status quoers.  Look where it has gotten us.  If we expect to get real traction on issues like national education standards, performance measures for teachers, expansion of charter schools and school choice, and a number of other reforms and ideas that are thrown about, we need an environment that allows for change.  That’s the only way we get education into the top tier of issues for federal elections.

Without doubt, the good people at Ed in 08 have the resources, the experience, and the know how to do this.  The snowmen have had their chance to ask the tough questions.  Now’s the time to put the candidate’s feet to the fire on what exactly they would do to boost student achievement and educational quality in our public schools.  Don’t tell us what’s wrong with the system; we know it better than you.  Tell us how your administration will fix it.  Please.

If Ed in 08 can get us those answers, then we really have something to talk about.

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