Is Education REALLY an important issue in 08?

Education is scoring pretty low right now on most voter ratings of “most important issues,” with only 12 percent rating it as the top issue in one* survey, and four percent in another. Yet when voters are allowed to rank how strongly they feel about multiple issues simultaneously, education scores about the same now as it did back in 2000 when it was a much bigger campaign issue.

One obvious explanation is that voters consistently care a lot about education, but the state of the country and world makes other issues variable. In a close election, though, can education policy make a difference in the minds of voters?  Maybe more as a metaphor than as an actual issue. Arguably, George Bush’s focus on education in 2000 helped flesh out the “compassionate conservative” meme. People didn’t vote for his ed policy per se, but it helped reinforce a carefully crafted image–a man with conservative values who cared about poor people. It seems like there is a large swath of domestic policy middle ground sitting wide open in a close election right now, and it’s not hard to imagine creative ways for either candidate to use education policy to flesh out a broader image of change or pragmatism or accountability or other memes. The issue still seems there for the taking.

On the other hand, The Onion has an alternate theory on THE key election issue, and I find the case somewhat compelling.

*Story via Education Week, subscription needed to view.

–Guestblogger Kevin Huffman

2 Replies to “Is Education REALLY an important issue in 08?”

  1. You neglected to mention the Onion’s best crawl during that news segment:

    “New poll shows chicken-fried steak leads pork-fried pork as nation’s favorite meat-fried meat.”

  2. Obama is not running for School Board, and education is really important in addressing values issues. As Jaun Williams said today on NPR, Obama has yet to convince 28% of Whites who are questioning whether he really cares about them. Voters don’t know about the Broader, Bolder challenge vs. th EEP, and they wouldn’t care anyway.

    If we are talking education, the EEP policy has failed. Notice the online discussion this week on NCLB, and ask whether any other participants other than Chris Cerf believe the PR of the EEP. The EEP approach is fundamentally about politics: good politics, politics that I believe is outmoded, and “inside baseball politics.” I its based on the 90s “Sista Solja” politics of toughness – showing that Dems can beat up on their own, and it brings the diverse coalition together. It gives leverage for urban school superintendents, it pleases the Left who don’t want to risk “blaming the victim” by criticizing parents, it helps the Right attack unions, and it pleases people who love numbers – like the billionaires that help finance it.

    But blood pressure, and sugar levels, and obesity rates are numbers too, and they are indisputably real. There is an old saying in the Black community that applies to everyone. “The community doesn’t care how much you know until it knows how much you care.”

    Raise a kid’s test scores and parents will appreciate it, especially if the numbers are real. But if you demonstrate your love by investing in that child’s health and happiness, as well as intellect, then you earn the loyalty of parents.

    Only on NPR have I heard candor like the other day when they asked a White parent to explain why he won’t vote for Obama. His child get’s beat up at school. As opposed to the normal political correctness, Juan Williams said “of course” that happens and “of course” that effects voting. As E.J. Dionne wrote, voters resent “the Harvards,” and their social engineering, and who they see as scorning them as racists for wanting to protect the kids.

    Of course, racism still is important. Of course, Dems are right in defendinding the rights of individuals. But the community – White and Black – is correct in believing that “the Harvards” have not protected their kids. Kids of all races will always beat each other up, and the perpetrators (who are still kids and who often are hurting inside) deserve compassion, due process, and educational opportunity. But education has abdicated its responsibility to balance the rights of the individuals vs. the welfare of the community.

    Do Black parents speak favorably about charters and vouchers because they support a particular instructional theory or worry about test scores? Those concerns are dwarfed by the desire for safe and orderly schools.

    I was in a gym with hundreds of people, almost all Black, when a student mouthed off in a pretty typical way to a cop. When she did not comply, the cop grabbed her by the throat and arrested her. You should have heard the cheering. The students were outraged, I was like most teachers believing that the cops overreact while we educators go to far the other way. But all night we got an ear-full from parents: “The schools let the kids run wild.” “The same kids start fights every time we come here. You won’t do anything.” and “When kids leave the school, ‘the cops don’t play.”

    Here is the big political issue. Do educators care enough about our kids to say ‘No.'”

    This message is implicit in Obama’s statements. We can’t expect him to do all of the heavy lifting. Get out of the tink tanks and listen to what parents and teachers are saying in their churchs, jobs, barbershops, and neighborhoods. They are not talking about the minutia of value-added longitudinal testing for evaluation purposes.

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