The quadrennial circus known as the presidential election
kicked into warp speed this month. Already, we've had the
New Hampshire primary and a handful of state caucuses.
The majority of primaries -- the real money states -- are
scheduled for the frozen first week in February, and within
a month it's likely we will know which candidates will
represent the major parties in November's election.
Though the current election has more in common substance-wise
with Dancing with the Stars than with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it's
clear there is one issue the candidates should be pressed on: improving
the state of public education.
It's easy to feel despondent during a presidential election year. One
politico seems as much of an empty suit as the next -- in a nation this
extraordinary, these are the best candidates we can come up with?
But our choice of elected representatives and the free and fair elections
that bring them to power do matter; one only has to look back to
the stolen presidential election of 2000 and consider what might have
been if the vote-counting process had run its due course.
One of the most encouraging signs for public education this election
year is the recent launch of Strong American Schools, a $60 million
nonpartisan public-awareness and public-action campaign aimed at taking the
issues surrounding our public schools to the top of the presidential-campaign
The Strong American Schools campaign (using the siren call of "Ed in
'08") will employ a cross-media approach that includes television and
radio ads, as well as an interactive e-campaign. Strong American Schools
will not endorse specific presidential candidates, but will instead focus
on three components the group believes form the building blocks of
better schooling: a call for stronger, more consistent curriculum standards;
lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacher
quality through merit pay and other measures.
"The American dream is slipping away, and unless our leaders dramatically
improve our public schools, our standard of living, our economy,
and our very democracy will be threatened," says Eli Broad,
founder of the Broad Foundation and a key backer of the campaign.
"Our country's education system is no longer the best in the world. We
need every American to demand better schools and specific policy solutions
from presidential candidates. Our future depends on it."
The Strong American Schools project has quickly proven itself both
ambitious and timely. One PSA features hip-hop singer Kanye West; it
zoomed to a place among the top twenty most-viewed YouTube videos
when it was released last September. Another ad, this time in print,
shows a student writing "A histery of Irak" on a blackboard. "Debating
Iraq is tough," the copy reads. "Spelling it shouldn't be. America's
schools are falling behind. It's a crisis that takes leadership to solve. So,
to all presidential candidates, we say, 'What's your plan to fix our
We know the answers won't come in a snappy sound bite. Our public
education system is extraordinarily complex, and reflects the radical
changes in this country over the past few decades. Nowhere is the
change more evident than in public school classrooms. Though once predominantly
white, we are now increasingly multi-hued. More and more
of us were born in other nations, speak different languages, and carry various
cultural traditions with us than ever before. Our family structures
are changing -- many of us marry older, and many don't marry at all.
Some groups of us have many children; some groups have none or few.
If candidates continue to talk in airy platitudes about public education,
they are dodging questions about the future. We must all be willing
to address education as an American challenge rather than as a narrow
political issue. The music and rhythm of politics can be an awfully powerful
thing, and it's time those skills are taken to bear on public education.
Look to the schools -- that's our future. Without an educated and
skilled workforce, America's competitiveness and security begin to spiral
downward very quickly. We can't let that happen. A strong America
depends on strong American schools.
Editor in Chief