How Does Education Really Rank?

For as long as Eduflack can remember, we have always cited that “education” is a top three issue in the eyes of the American people.  While we may debate whether it is a subject on which we cast our votes (and there is little to show that education policy has any effect on national campaigns), it is supposedly an issue that we hold near and dear.  So much so that just last year the Gates and Broad Foundations used Ed in 08/Stronger American Schools to try and push education through the win/place/show list to make it THE major driver in the 2008 presidential elections.

Funny how quickly things can change.  Education may have long been a top-three concern, but according to a recent national poll, it is now barely making the top 10.  Rasmussen recently surveyed Americans on their priorities, asking the question, “How important is it for the nation to face these issues …”  One could answer “very important” to any and all of the categories.  Following are those issues that scored very important (and how many of those surveyed thought so):
* Government ethics and corruption — 83 percent
* Economy — 82 percent
* Health care — 73 percent
* National security — 67 percent
* Social Security — 65 percent
* Taxes — 62 percent
* Education — 59 percent
* War in Iraq — 49 percent
* Immigration — 49 percent
That’s right, education now comes in seventh place.  Fewer than six in 10 people believe that education is a very important issue for our nation to face.  Makes you wonder about the 23 percent of those surveyed who are worried about the economy, but don’t see that a strong public education is a primary driver to economic improvement.  Or the 14 percent who fail to understand the correlations between healthcare (and healthcare costs) and education.  (Of course, Eduflack is even more startled that government ethics and corruption comes in at the top of the list, when we haven’t had a truly good scandal to rock the United States’ perception of those pulling the levers and writing the checks.  I suppose this is in response to the banking crisis and the bailout dollars).
If these numbers tell us anything, it is we cannot perceive education as an activity that occurs in a vacuum.  The quality of and access to a strong preK, K-12, and postsecondary education links virtually everything in our lives.  it effects jobs, tax revenues, and the economy at large.  It impacts healthcare, justice systems, and the environment.  It effects every American, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, or zip code.  But somehow, it is an “also ran” when it comes to the important issues our nation faces.
If we are to make real, lasting change to our educational systems, we need to build a sense of urgency and demand for such improvements.  Without that demand, it is going to be hard to move audiences to change their thinking, change their behaviors, and change our spending priorities.  Moreover, it will be harder for some to make the intellectual investment in education, particularly when they have five or six issues that are viewed as more important in the grand scheme of things.
With all of the time, effort, and money spent on education debates and school improvement efforts, why aren’t we breaking through?  Is it the message or the messenger?  Clearly, we are missing something.

96 thoughts on “How Does Education Really Rank?

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