In the 2008 Presidential Election race, education played a prominent role in the platforms of candidates from both sides of the aisle.  During the primary season, Democratic candidates called for a major overhaul of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act while Republican candidates emphasized the importance of school choice and the need for more voucher programs.   Even after Barack Obama and John McCain had been chosen as the two presidential candidates, education played a prominent role in each party’s platform positions and in the debates between the two candidates.   In the final presidential debate in October of 2008, now President Obama stated that education “has more to do with our economic future than anything,” while Senator John McCain boldly proclaimed that education is the “civil rights issue of the twenty-first century.”

Fast forward to 2012 and the place of education in the election dialogue has been radically transformed.  Instead of discourse filled with discussion of numerous and diverse policy considerations, the candidates on both sides of the aisle have almost exclusively focused their messages on the economy and health care reform.  With these two issues standing at the forefront of every American’s mind, Republicans and Democrats have had the difficult task of deciding whether to address education reform at all, and if so, figuring out a way to relate education to the problems pertaining to the economy.

Education reform seems to have taken a very minor role in the Republican presidential campaign platforms.  An uncharacteristic strategy move in light of the Republican party’s usual enthusiasm for education reform, the Republican candidates appear to be framing education reform programs and the Department of Education in terms of their ability to spend more federal tax dollars and their impact on the expanding role of the federal government.  In a recent presidential debate in Arizona, Ron Paul reiterated his position that the Department of Education should be eliminated, Mitt Romney criticized Rick Santorum for having voted for “No Child Left Behind”, and Rick Santorum subsequently apologized for his vote because of the “huge problem” that “No Child Left Behind” has created with “all the money that was put out there” for the program.   While this strategy may certainly change following the selection of the party’s official candidate for the Republican bid, as of now, it appears that education may play only a small part in the party’s campaign platform.

While Democratic President Barack Obama has not spent much time on the campaign trail at this point in the election season, his recent speeches and actions have suggested that education reform could play a more prominent role in his developing campaign platform.   For example, during his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama spent several minutes discussing his concerns about the state of education in the United States.  While he did reference the economy in his opening to this portion of his speech when he said, “to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier,” Obama focused the substance of his speech on his hope that student achievement will improve in coming years.  He suggested that measures need to be taken to ensure that schools retain good teachers, that every student graduates from high school, and that every student is given the financial backing to be able to attend a four-year higher education institution.  Additionally, President Obama also recently pardoned ten states from the restrictions of “No Child Left Behind.”  Obama’s aides have suggested this move reflects the President’s hope that states will stay on track in trying to improve student outcomes while not being penalized too heavily for not yet having reached certain goals.

While there appear to be some differences in the Democrat and Republican strategies regarding the discussion of education reform, it is certainly too early to tell whether these strategies will be maintained throughout the rest of the election season.  With the economy appearing to show signs of improvement and growth, both parties may feel more comfortable addressing this issue more intensely.  Or, if President Obama discusses education reform more frequently, Republicans may feel compelled to highlight education reform more prominently in their platforms.

Sources Used:

  1. 1.     http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/obama-on-education-in-state-of-the-union-address/2012/01/24/gIQAVfAwOQ_blog.html
  2. 2.     http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/303561/20120223/santorum-education-romney-arizona-debate-child-left.htm
  3. 3.     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/09/no-child-left-behind-waivers_n_1264872.html
  4. 4.     http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/president/debates/transcripts/third-presidential-debate.html
  5. 5.     http://educationnext.org/the-2012-republican-candidates-so-far/
  6. 6.     http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-butrymowicz/2012-republicans-education-_b_950617.html

 

For comments please email Anne Witt at aew53@law.georgetown.edu

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