Educational Policy and Political Football

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“Our struggling education system must be fixed in order to safeguard the economic future of American students and guarantee they are ready for college, work, and life.” Former WV Governor is one of the many growing voices of concern in the Education and politics debate. (MarketWatch 2008) Governors and State Legislators have to deal with the fact that educational change is on the move and as the election gets closer, each candidate and special interest group will court politically active segments of the education spectrum. All politicians either have to develop personal reform platforms or choose to stay silent.
During annual summer meeting of the National Association of Governors (NAG) and party leaders and political advisory groups address new ideas and initiatives. This year, former president Bill Clinton addressed the group on the issues of educational reform. During the speech he spoke about the need to “rewrite NCLB” (McNeil & Klein 2008) The group was apparently disinterested for one major reason; they do not have a voice in the process (McNeil & Klein). In 2001 when NCLB was being crafted the first time, governors were not courted in the process. As a result NAG, has remained divided on the issue of NCLB (McNeil 2008); thus, becoming a silent voice for states. However, the enigma within the NCLB implementation is that governors still have the most control over educational implantation(McNeil). Some have even fought the NCLB implementation within their own states.
Several of the politicians have developed voices of their own by joining the newly created Strong American Schools group and the ED in ’08 campaign. (MarketWatch 2008) This group is a new creation of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They have come together with several others groups in trying to make education a matter of the 2008 election (MarketWatch). This campaign challenges NCLB and current educational policy by creating a group of TV and radio commercials called “One Nation Left Behind” (MarketWatch). The group hopes to have some effect on the so-called swing states by airing these commercials in Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. The campaign will expanded to other states through out the campaign season.[1] As the campaign continues to spread, one has to wonder if this will affect the political platforms of the two main candidates.
Early in his campaign Barrack Obama unveiled his education platform and it differed in some ways from past. He looks at education as academic commodity and “in this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow” (Anburajan 2007). He went on to say, “for every dollar we invest in early childhood education, we get $10 back in reduced welfare rolls, lower healthcare costs and less crime” (Anburajan). By looking at his comments it can be seen that he is using long term invest jargon to offset the predicted $18 billion increase in taxes to pay for his programs. His most interesting comments were made in early July while addressing the National Educators Association via satellite; both candidates chose not to attend the conference. He commented that Charter Schools in NYC were improving education and that merit pay systems would produce higher quality educators in the classroom (Whitmire 2008) This interesting comment by the Democratic candidate shows that he might be distancing himself from the group. NEA over the past 2 decades has extended and liberalized its political platform to include major planks from the Democratic Party; so much so, that it tends to be too left for some of its card carrying members. (Whitmire) Since 2001, NEA has been one the most out spoken opponents of the NCLB legislation and continue to provide candidates at all levels with information and statistics as to why it should no longer be used. It seems that even though Obama and NEA both agree that NCLB is not working, they have different perspectives on what to do next.
John McCain on the other hand has been so absorbed in the international debate of Iraq, Iran and the Taliban; that his educational campaign platform almost looks like Obama’s. The two men agree that NCLB no longer is functional in its current form. He has even put forth the idea of reallocating funding from NCLB to be used for merit pay and tutoring programs for poor students. (Associate Press 2008) He has been a long time supporter of charter schools. However, “he doesn’t currently support changing the provisions of No Child Left Behind to allow for private school vouchers.” (Memmott 2008) It appears that his education policy at this time may simply be a list of voting records. While that may not seem impressive it needs to be looked at closely. His record shows consistent voting for educational policy change under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. (Memmott) However this does not provide a clear picture of his proposals for action if he were to take office. Thus we come back to the ED in ’08 question. How will 501 groups affect the elections this year and will they change the outcome of educational policy? Under a McCain administration it may be possible but it appears to be highly unlike to begin within his administration without exterior pressures.
The greatest possibility for change would be based on the Obama campaign ideology thus far: Small local groups, who passionately support a campaign, go out, find those who would agree, and motivate them to vote. If the Strong American Schools initiative were to develop a grassroots collective throughout the country, these voters could change the educational landscape. NEA and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) may only be the righteous indignation of political fallout but they could still use the model shown by the Obama campaign, already in place within their organizations, to develop new educational policy on a local level. With the NCLB entering its last year of use, educators, parents and politicians could begin to move several different unified and progressive educational platforms into the forefront. Through this process the groups of SAS, NEA, AFT and political punditry intermix; thus, coalescing into a short-term political giant, much like the Populist and Grange Parties of the late 19th Century. This group of unified voters could push the ideology into mainstream much like the WE campaign of Al Gore’s environmental group. In the end grassroots politics will be the salvation of American education or its lynch mob.

Bibliography
Anburajan, Aswini. “Obama’s Education Rollout.” MSNBC (Online) www.msnbc.com November 10, 2007.
“McCain to Talk Pocketbook education Issues.” Associated Press (Online) www.ap.org June 8, 2008
“SAS Fact Sheet.” ED in ’08. (Online) www.edin08.org July 14, 2008.
“Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise Addresses the national Council of La Raza on the need for Education Reform.” MarketWatch (Online) www.marketwatch.com July 13, 2008.
“New Advertising Campaign Hits Airwaves; Points to Dire State of America’s Education System.” MarketWatch (Online) www.marketwatch.com July 13, 2008.
Memmott, Mark. “Oneducation, McCain & Obama may not be far apart.” USAToday (Online) www.usatoday.com June 6, 2008
McNeil, Michele. “Governors Edge Towards Position on NCLB.” Education Week (Online) www.edweek.org July 14, 2008.
McNeil, Michele, Klein, Allyson. “Bill Clinton and Jamie Lee Curtis Involved in Ed Politics.” Education Week (Online) www.edweek.org July 14, 2008.Whitmire, Richard. “NEA too big for its britches.” Politico.com (Online) www.politico.com July 10, 2008

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