There is an education angle here, too. In different ways Iowa and New Hampshire are outliers on education policy. Iowa’s high SAT scores have created a sense that nothing needs fixing and New Hampshire’s local control/libertarian bent makes that state an outlier on issues like finance and standards/accountability. The NEA is also unusually strong in Iowa. All this matters and in the Democratic contest these states often serve to shave the sharper edges off of candidate’s reform plans. Day after day of getting hammered by activists takes a toll on how candidates perceive issues even if the hammering is mostly political stagecraft.
Some signals that education policy may be changing in Iowa as a result of political changes there. Still, education advocacy groups should think more about ways to use these states (and South Carolina) to inject education ideas and questions into the presidential campaign conversation. Imagine, for instance, if some of the millions spent on “Ed in ’08” had been used to print up simple hand cards with education statistics in those three states and a few questions that voters should ask every candidate, R or D, about their plans to improve schools. That’s perfectly legal issue advocacy for non-profits and foundations and would have provided a counterweight.