The quadrennial circus known as the presidential electionkicked into warp speed this month. Already, we've had theNew Hampshire primary and a handful of state caucuses.The majority of primaries -- the real money states -- arescheduled for the frozen first week in February, and withina month it's likely we will know which candidates willrepresent the major parties in November's election.
Though the current election has more in common substance-wisewith Dancing with the Stars than with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it'sclear there is one issue the candidates should be pressed on: improvingthe state of public education.
It's easy to feel despondent during a presidential election year. Onepolitico seems as much of an empty suit as the next -- in a nation thisextraordinary, these are the best candidates we can come up with?
But our choice of elected representatives and the free and fair electionsthat bring them to power do matter; one only has to look back tothe stolen presidential election of 2000 and consider what might havebeen if the vote-counting process had run its due course.
One of the most encouraging signs for public education this electionyear is the recent launch of Strong American Schools, a $60 millionnonpartisan public-awareness and public-action campaign aimed at taking theissues surrounding our public schools to the top of the presidential-campaignagenda.
The Strong American Schools campaign (using the siren call of "Ed in'08") will employ a cross-media approach that includes television andradio ads, as well as an interactive e-campaign. Strong American Schoolswill not endorse specific presidential candidates, but will instead focuson three components the group believes form the building blocks ofbetter schooling: a call for stronger, more consistent curriculum standards;lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacherquality through merit pay and other measures.
"The American dream is slipping away, and unless our leaders dramaticallyimprove 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. Weneed every American to demand better schools and specific policy solutionsfrom presidential candidates. Our future depends on it."
The Strong American Schools project has quickly proven itself bothambitious and timely. One PSA features hip-hop singer Kanye West; itzoomed to a place among the top twenty most-viewed YouTube videoswhen it was released last September. Another ad, this time in print,shows a student writing "A histery of Irak" on a blackboard. "DebatingIraq is tough," the copy reads. "Spelling it shouldn't be. America'sschools 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 ourschools?'"
We know the answers won't come in a snappy sound bite. Our publiceducation system is extraordinarily complex, and reflects the radicalchanges in this country over the past few decades. Nowhere is thechange more evident than in public school classrooms. Though once predominantlywhite, we are now increasingly multi-hued. More and moreof us were born in other nations, speak different languages, and carry variouscultural traditions with us than ever before. Our family structuresare 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 willingto address education as an American challenge rather than as a narrowpolitical issue. The music and rhythm of politics can be an awfully powerfulthing, and it's time those skills are taken to bear on public education.Look to the schools -- that's our future. Without an educated andskilled workforce, America's competitiveness and security begin to spiraldownward very quickly. We can't let that happen. A strong Americadepends on strong American schools.
Editor in Chief