Do We Care About Education in the Prez Race?

A few weeks ago, Eduflack penned a piece for Education Post on how the presidential candidates from both parties are not talking about education issues (beyond some of the red meat on Common Core and college affordability), but probably should. Specifically, I urged a deeper discussion on issues like accountability, teacher education, and the federal/state role in education.

Earlier this week, ASCD released its weekly EdPulse poll, this time focused on what edu-issues ASCD readers wanted to see presidential candidates focus on. No surprise, college affordability came in first place with 26 percent. Student testing was a close second at 24 percent, and the new ESEA was at 23 percent (particularly interesting because we still don’t quite know what is in the new law). Following up the rear were teacher evaluations (7 percent), Common Core (4 percent), and charter schools (3 percent).

We can talk about the need for presidential candidates to talk about education, but the simple fact is the American voter doesn’t vote based on education issues. For decades, education has been an “also ran” when it comes to campaign policy issues. And nowhere is this clearer than in the most recent piece from the incomparable Rick Hess.

Over at Ed Week, Hess takes an interesting look at how public concern for education issues stacked up in presidential years 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. In looking at the numbers, we see that education was the strongest issue in 2000. It should be of no surprise, then, that we elected (or the Supreme Court selected, based on your perspective) a president who honestly and enthusiastically focused on education issues.

Then we see the nosedive. A huge drop off in 2004, when NCLB rules the roost and people understood what presidential interest in education looked like at a policy level. Four years later didn’t fare much better, despite the efforts of Ed in ’08. And not much change in 2012 either.

Even in today in 2016, with all of the worries about Common Core and testing and college costs and federal oversteps and all of the things that go bump in the edu-night, education interest in the presidential campaigns is shaping up to be only about a third the priority it was in 2000.

It’s a sad fact … and sadly predictable. We will rally around a candidate who wants to build a giant wall around the country or some other ridiculous idea, but we won’t give a second thought to a candidate who makes public education a cornerstone of a campaign.

If the voters don’t prioritize education at the ballot boxes, we can’t expect candidates to give a damn.


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