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Can a New Campaign Force Candidates to Prioritize Education?

Two-thirds of swing-state voters say improving education should be a top priority, but politicians don’t always give the issue the focus it deserves.


Two-thirds of swing-state voters say improving education should be a top priority, but politicians don’t always give the issue the attention it deserves. Now a new nonpartisan College Board campaign called "Don’t Forget Ed" is aiming to use public support to pressure presidential candidates to pay more attention to public education.

The effort has the potential to generate plenty of support: A College Board survey finds that the only national issues more important to voters than education are jobs and the economy. Voters believe improving the quality of and access to schooling—particularly at the college level—is necessary to maintaining America’s global competitiveness. The issue is particularly important to women: 70 percent of women in swing states say that "education is extremely important" in this year's presidential and Congressional elections.

In the video announcing the campaign, advocates interview students, teachers, community members, and former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein about how America's education system should improve and why politicians should get involved. But much of the narrative of the video is about the failures of the current education system. It shows scary stats about the United States ranking 25th in math and 21st in science on international tests—though it fails to note that the nation has always performed near the middle or bottom on those tests or that our results are improving over time.

While we can all agree that politicians should quit their partisan squabbling over student loan interest rates and stop slashing state education budgets, it's unclear whether any president should be heavily involved in education policy. Let's not forget that the last so-called "education president" was George W. Bush, author of the nearly universally reviled No Child Left Behind Act—which ushered in an era of high-stakes testing and harsh punishments for failure to improve—all without providing schools the resources they needed to innovate. Prominent critics of President Obama's Race to the Top education reform say it's more of the same, launching a "Dump Duncan" campaign calling for the firing of the Secretary of Education.

Most politicians already say they're committed to improving schools, but College Board president Gaston Caperton says actually improving education "takes money and it takes change, and both of them are hard for politicians to talk about." Perhaps a flood of Don't Forget Ed-inspired tweets, Facebook posts, and blog entries will finally spur candidates to engage in some real talk on education—and follow through if they're elected in November.

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