Did education play a role?
Nicholas J. Penning
With the 2004 presidential election now history, we can look back at the campaigns of the principal contenders and ask whether education maintained its recent status as one of the highest-ranking issues on the national political agenda. We’ve come to expect K-12 education to rank among the top four voter concerns in nearly every national election of late.
Sadly, that appears not to have been the case in 2004. What was on the voters’ minds? According to the final pre-election survey conducted by the respected Gallup Poll, voters ranked these issues, in order, when asked to identify the most important problem facing the nation today: War in Iraq/fear of war, 23 percent; economy in general, 21 percent; terrorism, 16 percent; health care, 13 percent; unemployment/jobs, 12 percent; ethics/moral/religious concerns, 6 percent; national security, 5 percent; and education/poor education/access to education, 5 percent.
After the election, voters told Reuters’ exit pollsters of different reasons that topped their list of concerns. However, education still could not garner double-digit support. Reuters found main voter concerns to be these: Morality, 22 percent; economy/jobs, 21 percent; terrorism, 19 percent; Iraq, 15 percent; other domestic issues (health/ education/taxes), less than 10 percent.
During his re-election campaign, President George Bush did refer to education in nearly every speech. But it did not show up in his stump speeches until the 40th or 70th paragraph (depending on which version he delivered), roughly three-quarters of the way through his remarks. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., made education a less pointed item on his agenda and when it did appear–about a third of the way into his typical campaign speech–education was addressed in terms of the high costs of college tuition and its impact on working families.
Here are samples of those two different education approaches.
President Bush: “As a candidate I pledged to end the soft bigotry of low expectations in our schools. And as president, I have kept my word. We passed the No Child Left Behind Act…. We’ve increased federal spending, especially for poor students. But in return for an increase of federal spending, we’re now saying, ‘Show us whether or not a child can read or write, and add and subtract.'”
Sen. Kerry: “The middle class is carrying a larger share of the tax burden, but family income is down, and the cost of everything is through the roof. Health care up 64 percent. College tuition up more than 35 percent. Medicare premiums up 56 percent. 1.6 million lost jobs, 5 million more Americans without health care, and 220,000 students who can’t afford college.
We’ll provide tax cuts to help you pay for college, health care and child care.”
What a second Bush term will mean for education rarely appeared in public discussions. However, we know from his Perkins Vocational/Technical Education proposal, which was unveiled and discussed on Capitol Hill prior to the election, that the president wants to use No Child Left Behind to change the state of high schools. His campaign’s “Agenda for America” began with a reference to job opportunities. The president’s campaign documents claimed: “President Bush proposes extending state assessments in grades three through 11 in reading and math. More than $250 million in annual funding will be provided to help states design and administer these assessments, which would require states to add two tests in high school over the next several years. The president’s plan includes 12th graders in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.”
Speaking to the press two days after his re-election, the president began his news conference with a list of his second-term priorities beginning with terrorism and war. He then said, “The new Congress that begins its work next year will have serious responsibilities and historic opportunities. To accelerate the momentum of this economy and to keep creating jobs, we must take practical measures to help our job creators, the entrepreneurs and the small business owners. We must confront the frivolous lawsuits that are driving up the cost of health care and hurting doctors and patients. We must continue the work of education reform, to bring high standards and accountability not just to our elementary and secondary schools, but to our high schools as well.”
We can conclude that the new Congress, which begins this month, likely will act quickly to makes these NCLB expansions. Will there be any likelihood of amendments to make NCLB less onerous? That depends on what degree congressional victors perceive NCLB to be of concern among their constituents.
For now, we know education received relatively little emphasis in both presidential camps and the public ranked education far below its traditional status as a major national issue. Clearly, we must continue our expressions of concern to our own U.S. Senate and House of Representatives members and offer them reasonable and specific suggestions for improving the law.
To easily connect to your own members of Congress, go to AASA’s Online Issues site (www.congressweb.com/cweb4/ index.cfm?orgcode=AASA) and type in your zip code in the box at the bottom.
Nick Penning is AASA senior policy analyst. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
COPYRIGHT 2005 American Association of School Administrators
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