My View: Education is missing in this election, and perhaps that’s a good thing
Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama discuss their views on the issues at the final presidential debate on October 22, 2012 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.
November 5th, 2012
04:06 AM ET

My View: Education is missing in this election, and perhaps that’s a good thing

Courtesy ASCDBy Gene Carter, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Gene Carter is CEO and executive director of ASCD, an international education leadership association with 150,000 members—superintendents, principals, teachers, professors, and advocates — in more than 145 countries. A veteran educator with experience as a teacher, administrator, superintendent and university professor, Carter took over the helm of ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) in 1992.

As the 2012 presidential campaign builds to what appears to be an incredibly close finish, I am struck by the absence of education in the candidates’ ongoing dialogue. Job creation, health care, tax policy, and even Big Bird have been campaign issues, but to date, education policy has only lurked in the background.

Why is this? The results of the 2012 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools are instructive.   According to the survey, 77% of respondents assigned the nation’s schools either a C grade or lower; yet the poll says we have confidence in public school teachers.  Respondents believe that closing the achievement gap and improving urban schools is important, but they would rather balance the federal budget than improve education.

The U.S. voters’ paradoxical views on education make it a difficult issue for presidential candidates to address, and that may be a good thing. Education’s lack of prominence on the campaign trail might preserve it from becoming a wedge issue that further divides us.

At ASCD, we believe education is an issue that unites us. We all want good schools for each child. We are all interested in the design and implementation of effective school improvement strategies that help us close the achievement gap. We all support ongoing professional development so educators can continue to meet the needs of today’s students. We believe in working together to preserve U.S. competitiveness in the world through an education system that prepares students for college, career, and citizenship.

The obstacles to reach these goals are formidable. We know now that beyond the purely academic challenges, our education system is faced with a host of issues shaped by human psychology, technology, economics, and public administration, among other factors. Likewise, we know that parts of our complex education system work well, while other areas need improvement.  We must move thoughtfully and carefully as we seek progress.

Education is a complicated public policy issue, ill-suited for reductive stump speeches that serve only to score political points. The multifaceted U.S. education system requires a high level of collaboration and accountability from policymakers, families, educators, and students to be successful.  In addition, it requires agreement among stakeholders on the verydefinition of studentsuccess, which we here at ASCD believe means that students go to school and graduate feeling safe, healthy, engaged, supported, and challenged. Progress in this arena requires unity of purpose and understanding from the U.S. public, not rancor and division from its leaders.

Regardless of education’s exposure in this year’s presidential campaign, I am confident it is an issue that will attract the president’s immediate attention on day one of the next term. The issues are multidimensional and the stakes are high. Either candidate will have his hands full when he is sworn in next January. So, as this campaign concludes in the coming days, let’s hope the next four years unite all policymakers on both sides of the aisle in districts, states, and the nation’s capital to work together to improve our nation’s schools.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gene Carter.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Issues • Voices
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Jorge

    Let's see if this is the word triggering the censor-IDIOCRACY.

    November 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  2. Jorge

    Hey, stop censoring my non-profane commentary just because it states truths that hurt about education in this country. Am I hitting a personal nerve, Mr. Censor???

    November 14, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  3. Roger H

    What do you call a country full of singers, dancers, and people who play with a ball (football, baseball, basketball)? A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY!

    In America, our kids dream about X-factor, America's Got Talent, Dancing With The Stars, The Voice, NFL, NBA, MLB .... a country full of kids who want to be singers, dancers and play with a ball.

    Who will design the next generation computers, phones, satellites, appliances ... etc? NOT singers, dancers and ball players!

    November 8, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  4. Wolfgang Halbig

    Black people are people and why are we afraid to say what we feel.

    I see black students holding other black students back from learning because it makes the uneducated black look stupid

    Think about it.......

    "In 1989, a senior director of the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory told the fifty governors of American states that year assembled to discuss government schooling, "What we’re into is total restructuring of society." It doesn’t get much plainer than that. There is no record of a single governor objecting.

    Two years later Gerald Bracey, a leading professional consultant for government schooling, wrote in his annual report to clients: "We must continue to produce an uneducated social class."

    That uneducated social class is the 47 million people on food stamps, free cell phones, utility subsidies, Free Section 8 housing, free gas, pay No taxes and are only expected to vote the color of their skin to keep those benefits provided by the hard working middle class.

    All you have to do is watch Jerry Springer and Mauray for the last 8 years and they will clearly show you that uneducated social class.

    It is out there and it is growing by leaps and bounds with NO end in sight.

    Yes, I can ignore our problems since I receive my retirement check that I earned and my social check that I earned and my Medicare that I earned but I have two beautiful granddaughters and I have to fight for them because they one day will have children and what will be left for them.

    How can so many people be that stupid and not see the big picture.

    I picked fruit at age 12 all through High School to help my mother and I liked it because I got paid for my work.

    The Mexicans are taking the blacks jobs because the blacks see those jobs as demeaning to their status in America.

    Rosa Parks fought for the right to be in the front of the bus and now in Public Schools blacks ride in the back of the bus and beat up kids who won't let them.

    How times have changed.

    November 8, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  5. fiftyfive55

    Education has become political and you'll see it if you have school age kids.they teach and dont teach alot of things that dont belong in school curriculums

    November 7, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  6. rexdogcanadien

    Teachers are accountable for what they teach. However they are not accountable for the student's learning.When our children are hungry we provide them with sustenance. But we cannot ingest it for them. When they are thirsty we cannot drink for them. When they need to use the toilet we cannot defecate for them. Teachers teach. Students must study in order to learn. Yes, good teaching does matter but no matter how good/poor the teacher is if students are not committed to their studies they will not LEARN. Those of us who chose teaching as a career are not in it purely for a pay cheque at the end of the month. We do it because we are committed to see that the student under our tutourlage achieve or exceed the expectations set out for them.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Marie

      I agree with you that students are partly responsible for their own education. My kids have had great teachers that did a wonderful job with them and they have had teachers that should never have been teachers that couldn't get them excited to learn about anything. Teachers are key. If their teacher doesn't do a great job and doesn't care to communicate their needs to the parents they will not be sucessful. You forget that parents play a major role in making sure their kids study. If you have a parent that doesn't care couple that with a teacher that doesn't like their job that spells disaster for the student. Parents are just as important as the teacher if not more so. I agree that it's not my job to teach, but as a parent it is most definitely my job to make sure my kids do what they are supposed to do and get everything they can out of the opportunities provided to them.

      November 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
      • Penny Taylor

        Sorry, that should read agree not argree, poor vision.

        November 8, 2012 at 9:37 am |
      • AnotherAnnie

        As a former public school teacher, I want to add the following: it isn't that the parents don't care, it is that many don't realize or understand what they need to do at home to help their child develop at particular stages that would enable their children to be more successful in school, and teachers (who are already putting in a Hurculean effort just trying to keep up with changes in curriculum, differentiated lessons for everything, attend morning and afternoon parent-teacher conferences on a daily basis, keeping up with the myriad of parent and administrative emails, filling out the ever increasing paperwork that comes with SPED, ED, RIT, ADHD, ESoL, 504, etc., and grading student work), are often unable to help students overcome those deficits. Parents' decisions about how to raise children from the time of infancy until they start school have a profound effect on how well those children are able to learn in the classroom, and students who start school well prepared in kindergarten will always have an edge over those who are ill prepared, for the rest of their academic lives. Parents who regularly read to their children from infancy teach their children listening stamina and rich vocabulary. Parents who make a point to bring their infants and toddlers to places where developmental learning is encouraged (like story time at the public library, free days at the local zoo or museum, any sort of "Mommy ans Me" classes – even as just a trial, Sunday School, etc.), and who are thoughtful about the lessons and values of the television, movie, and video game/electronic learning game environments they allow their small children to be exposed to help their children develop schema, or background knowledge about the world and how it works. When they start school, they tend to know all of their letters and some of the sounds they make (some even read befor kinder, as my youngest daughter did), They have knowledge not just of different types of animals, but also about the sounds they make, the foods they eat, the habitats they live in. They come prepared to listen and learn, and they are excited about school. Children who stay at home or in a sitter's home watching Cartoon Network for five years before they start school show up not knowing all the letters of the alphabet, colors and shapes beyond the most basic, or anything about the real world outside of home. They have severely limited vocabulary, so they may only understand a portion of what is being shared around them at school. They may have poor self-esteem and be uncomfortable admitting they don't understand, which puts them further behind, and they often don't go home and do the required reading, spelling, and math homework that might help them better understand what they are learning in school-or at least give their teacher an idea of where their understanding breaks down. How is a teacher supposed to overcome all of that in a regular classroom setting of diverse learners? When parents don't do their part at home in the early years, it's like they are setting up their children (and by extension their children's teachers) for failure.

        November 8, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Penny Taylor

      I argee that students need to put forth effort. They need to care. But they won't care if no one else does. As a teacher, I saw students whose parents did not value the students accomplishments. That needs to change tool.

      November 8, 2012 at 9:35 am |
      • AnotherAnnie

        I have seen many parents, especially at the middle school level, who are too wrapped up in their own personal lives and problems to care about their child's small successes and struggles. They think that because their children look grown up they don't need so much supervision. Then, parents sort of slack off and put the focus back on their own lives. But that is a false idea. Students in middle and high school almost require more supervision than their elementary counterparts to stay out of trouble and keep their focus in school on the business of learning.

        November 8, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  7. Marie

    Education should not be a political issue. Education shouldn't be as complicated as we have made it. We don't need standardized test and to analyze every aspect of school preformance for our children to be educated. We need to focus on the students and work hard with them, both parents and teachers. What has complicated education to this degree in America? FUNDING. We need to find a way to fund our schools that doesn't require such analysis. Niether of our candidates understand this. Unions are not the problem, though I do not think they are necessary. Simplify our education system and we will get results.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Marie

      BY the way all of that analysis is super costly. All of that money wasted to tell us what we already knew seems super inefficient. Also our schools will preform better if we provide the teachers with a better way to discipline our children. Right now their hands are tied because of sue happy Americans. Let the Teachers keep the kids in check when they are dealing with them with minimal intrusion from parents. I am so sick of going to my kids school and seeing such disbehaving little hellions running a muck like they own the place.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  8. Oakspar77777

    The best education comes from home – as even public school teachers will tell you that the students from good homes that value education produce their favorite and best performing students.

    Of course, having nothing by homeschools would be a fiscal disaster for the country. There is a real place of value in the community for the public school.

    The farther, however, you take education from the home, the more inferior it becomes as it has to standardize students, results, methods, and cirriculum over multiple communities.

    To fix education, first and foremost, you must admit that it cannot be fixed on a federal level. All education and standards should be returned to the states. At that point, the states should work to return school autonomy back to the counties and parishes.

    When counties (or even townships in some parts of the country) are again in charge of their schools, then we will see diverse ciriculum, individual attention, and growth for students tailored to the community they are born and raised in.

    Think of education like raising chickens.

    Federalized education is like an industrial farm, where getting a uniform product at the end is the goal, and the students are given the minimium of resources and the necessary medications to minimize loss and costs at every corner.

    Local education is like the small farm, where the medication (Rittillin) isn't needed to keep students happy, where their names and abilities matter more than a uniform prodect, and where they have the space to grow and develop naturally on a varied diet of academic disciplines rather than a highly processed "professionally ballanced" Common Core diet.

    Moreover, look at the farmer at the industrial farm verses the small farmer. See the difference in pride, work ethic, and personal happiness. Consider how great your teachers would be if they were freed up to spend their time actually teaching, rather than checklisting the layers of constrant, scruitiny, and control.

    Yes, in the freedom of local systems, there will be some abuses, some failures, and some hard consequences – but in the current system, for the sake of saving all we have doomed all. You cannot spend all your energy keeping the bottom dregs of humanity from falling and still have the energy to inspire the best and the brightest to the heights they can reach.

    Instead, we get generations of failure who believe there will always be an extra chance to squeak by since they will never be allowed to fail and generations of great kids developing habits of apathy and laziness, since so long as they can pass tests meant to messure basic skills the teachers are content and ignore them.

    Unions do not help, since they thrive on the funding and control that comes from having a stranglehold on the government that has a stranglehold on education.

    November 6, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Levismom

      The problem with comparing education to a chicken farm is simple. We can't "throw out" the chickens who are sick, hungry, needy, or have special needs. We have to pay attention to ALL the chickens regardless of their past or future needs.

      November 7, 2012 at 9:26 am |
      • Jorge

        Yup, you go ahead and pile all the sick chickens with the healthy ones instead of setting them aside for the vet (I am writing figuratively, too). We'll wager on how long it'll take your farm to go belly-up.

        November 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  9. GO_GOP

    We became the greatest nation on earth by being a Christian nation based on the teachings of our savor Jesus Christ. In order to prosper we need compulsory Bible reading and classes in schools. Every child in USA should be required to demonstrate a clear understanding of the Holy Bible. If not he should not be allowed to progress to college. Let us return to our Christian roots to become great again. Romney 2012 and 2016

    November 6, 2012 at 5:12 am |
    • Marie

      Except that Romney is a Mormon and his religion is quite freaky. NOOOOO way do I want my kids to learn about the bible in school from someone I don't know and trust. I don't want my kids to be held back from going to college because they reject your religious beliefs. You seem to be a zealot, I wouldn't want my kids anywhere near you or your funky ideals. I want my kids to be free to practice whatever religion they choose. I want them to be honorable, honest, and trustworthy people, but that can be done without force feeding them the bible and brainwashing them to believe that they should fear an imaginary man in the sky. Obama 2012!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
      • kaat

        Please open your eyes.....what kind of "brainwashing" is happening from the gay-community's school programs? ....the "vote for Obama" programs in schools- meaning the teacher's opinion dominating discussions in public schools that discourage or disrespect the GOP? And you are afraid of Bible teachings negatively impacting your child? It works both ways. Kids get "brainwashed" from the left in public schools and THAT is not acceptable to the right. Got it? Your argument doesn't add up b/c you cannot just have it YOUR way, you cannot make your style of "brainwashing" Okay and the right's Wrong. Perhaps you need some critical thinking skills that public education doesn't teach.

        November 8, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  10. Hey teacher

    A vote fore Mitt Romney is a vote for better education!

    Vote for Romney!
    Vote for jobs!
    Vote for a better economy!
    Vote for Romney!

    November 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • james pfeiffer

      If your not being sarcastic we're all doomed!

      November 5, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Jesus

      Yes, I saw this, too.I've been in China for three months. This was not the first aclirte I've seen blacked out by the Chinese government while I've been here. There have been several regarding Taiwan, and also a freaky religious group, called the Falun Gong or Falun Dafa.When I get back to the United States, I'm sending a very nasty letter to CNN. Frankly, I think that CNN should discontinue service to China, completely, unless China allows CNN to be broadcast in its entirety.Wanna have some fun? Regarding that falun gong stuff, try searching falun gong or falun dafa using After one or two tries, you'll get cut off completely from for several minutes, if you are using a Chinese internet connection.For right now, I'll just call myself centerstand, 'till I'm outta China!-Centerstand

      November 15, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  11. Ollie

    Please tell me how teachers unions are the single, sole problem with education in the US? I'd love to hear some regurgitated uninformed response. Seriously – teachers unions are made up of the very teachers you say you love. Love me or hate me?

    November 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  12. Gary Richardson

    I'm tired of hearing about "balancing the budget". THERE IS NO BUDGET TO BALANCE.
    And secondly, education will NEVER improve as long as there are unions in the way.
    Somewhere we will have to stop addressing the symptoms (an aspirin for the headache) and take on the problem (what is causing the headache)

    November 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Alice in PA

      If unions are the problem, the why do states with unionized teachers outperform states without the unions? And those nations that out perform us on the international tests like Singapore and Finland have unionized teachers.
      You are right that we have to address the real problem and not just the symptoms. But the real problem is childhood poverty. Socioeconomic status os the number one factor in a child's school achievement. Being in poverty affects not only physical health, but also mental growth with effects as subtle as the exposure to the amount and level of vocabulary. Poverty is the root disease, but we choose to blame unions because it is easier.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  13. Bob S

    Budgets go up. Scores go down. Let's figure out why.

    November 5, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • fizziks

      First of all, Bob, what do you mean by scores go down? In fact, there are many indications that US education is improving.

      Next, even if scores were going down in the face of budgets going up, there could be many reasons. Are parents not pulling their weight at home – providing a steady, safe, encouraging environment for their kids' academic success? Are schools having to cram for ever more rote standardized tests, and sacrificing real learning in the process? Inflation? Costs such as fuel for transportation and heating?

      November 5, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
      • Alice in PA

        Among those indicators are increasing NAEP scores. The fact the SAT is remaining flat is actually an improvement as more and more students take it. Rich college bound students used to make up 90% of the SAT takers, but now some states require everyone to take it. If you examine the disaggregated scores, you will see that many groups of students are making sizable gains in their scores.The US has the highest child poverty rate of wealthy nations ( 22% compare to about 8%) and yet we score right with most of the other nations. That is a triumph. If you compare only our non-poverty students to those of other countries, we outscore them! The myth of the failing US school system only serves the corporate reformers, not our children.

        November 5, 2012 at 9:15 pm |