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Looking for Education in the 2016 Election
Surprisingly, substantive debate about education in grades K-12 has largely been absent from this year’s presidential election. Whatever your thoughts about the 2016 nominees, the absence of discussion around education issues like knowing if students are on track to graduate from high school prepared for success in their post-secondary education is a concern for us all. Many of our major challenges, from race relations to greater economic growth to our global standing, connect to education.
Candidates in past presidential elections certainly embraced education as a part of their campaigns. Consider the 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, which came on the heels of Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 and communism’s gathering momentum around the world.
Facing a critical time, the candidates considered education an essential tool to solidify the U.S. position as a global leader. We needed enough engineers, scientists, and mathematicians to compete around the world. And we needed pathways for our citizens to emerge from poverty into real economic opportunities.
It was Aristotle, more than 2,000 years ago, who said: 'The neglect of education ruins the constitution of the country'… I have spoken in this campaign of the new frontiers which America will cross in the sixties. In many ways education is the gateway to those new frontiers. For through the education of our young people we develop those resources of mind and spirit which America possesses in such abundance, and which alone can provide the strength, the imagination, and the creative intelligence which the troubled decade ahead will demand.
In this whole area of civil rights, the equality of opportunity for employment and education is not just for the benefit of minority groups, it’s for the benefit of the nation so that we can get the scientists and engineers and all the rest that we need. And in addition to that, we need programs, particularly in higher education, which will stimulate scientific breakthroughs which will bring more growth. Now what all this, of course, adds up to is this: America has not been standing still…But we can and must move faster, and that's why I stand so strongly for programs that will move America forward in the sixties, move her forward so that we can stay ahead of the Soviet Union and win the battle for freedom and peace.
In 2000, both candidates brought rigorous thought and specifics to their education platforms. While Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore differed on how to best move forward, they both believed education was crucial to the success of our citizens personally and our country collectively.
I happened to believe strong accountability encourages parental involvement...One of the good things we've done in Texas is we have strong accountability because you can't cure unless you know. You can't solve a problem unless you diagnose it…I also believe that we need to say to people that if you cannot meet standards, there has to be a consequence. Instead of the soft bigotry of low expectations, there has to be a consequence. We can't continue to shuffle children through school. And one of the consequences is to allow parents to have different choices.
I see a day in the United States of America where all of our public schools are considered excellent, world class. Where there are no failing schools, where the classrooms are small enough in size, number of students, so that the teacher can spend enough one-on-one time with each student… It means hiring bonuses to get 100,000 new teachers in the public schools within the next four years. It means also helping local school districts that sometimes find the parents of school age children outvoted on bond issues, to give them some help with interest-free bonding authority so that we can build new schools and modernize the classrooms…I want to give every middle-class family a $10,000 a year tax deduction for college tuition so that middle-class families will always be able to send their kids on to college.
As we head toward the 2016 elections, recent polls indicate that the economy is the key issue for registered voters. There also is broad consensus that our economic recovery since 2008 has been uneven. Our path forward is understandably a concern for voters across parties.
But we can’t ignore education and focus solely on the economy. As one goes, so goes the other. The research of Stanford University’s Eric Hanushek and others tells us that better educating our students improves our economy. Similarly, effective teachers increase the earning potential of their students over time.
So, what does this mean for the nation and our leaders?
In the U.S., more than 60 percent of students are off-track in math and reading by eighth grade. That finding is according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, which is considered the gold standard of assessments.
Correcting that deficit requires collective action by educators, policy makers, business leaders, and parents. When it comes to policymakers, increasingly that will mean state and local leaders. The new Every Student Succeeds Act places the onus primarily on states to ensure their students are on track in key subjects like math and reading.
States indeed are great laboratories. As Candidate Bush explained in 2000, Texas pioneered a strong system of standards, testing to make sure students meet them, and holding schools accountable for the results.
But the nation also has an interest in making sure all students across the country are learning at grade level. That compelling interest prompted the bipartisan coalition, led by President George W. Bush and the late Senator Ted Kennedy, to ensure that the federal government left no child behind in school.
Americans would be well served if those running for national office would call states forward, urging them to set high standards for students, to assess students to be sure they are meeting those standards each year, and to deploy research-based interventions with students who fall behind.
At times, improving education can seem like a Sisyphean endeavor. But we must shake off that notion.
As John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Al Gore, and George W. Bush understood, educational progress is central to our most pressing domestic challenges.
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