We know where they stand on energy, economy, and the war. John McCain’s favorite foods are shrimp and pepperoni and onion pizza, Barack Obama (still) loves “The Wire”, and yes, Hillary Clinton does know how to text message her daughter (thanks for clearing that up, Tyra). From stump speeches to televised debates, however, the candidates’ plans to address the state of the country’s educational system are noticeably absent.
What gives? One explanation is that voters themselves are less concerned with education this time around. In poll after poll, Americans are reporting that the issues most important to them are some combination of the war in Iraq, the economy, terrorism, healthcare, and immigration. No wonder, then, that these same topics are the ones most often broached by the would-be Commanders in Chief.
Education also tends to be difficult to address in sound bites. The requisite responses to questions about the No Child Left Behind Act — sing its praises if you’re a Republican, condemn it as an unfunded mandate if you’re a Democrat, pledge to improve it in either case — are digestible enough. But how to discuss complex issues like merit pay for teachers, school accountability, or widespread systemic reform with an electorate that has little understanding of what these things really mean? Apparently, the answer is: Don’t. Clinton landed the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers early. The jury’s still out on the National Education Association’s pick, although Clinton and Huckabee received nods from the New Hampshire chapter. Away from these specialty audiences, it seems easier to avoid the topic completely.
Information regarding the candidates’ positions and voting records is out there for those interested in finding it. There’s also at least one nonpartisan truancy officer dedicated to making education more visible in the 2008 election: Ed in 08, sponsored in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, plans to spend some $60 million pushing the issue, pledging in its unveiling “to be a constant presence in and around where the candidates are going to be.” Based on the initiative’s success so far, we’d give it a check minus.