Everyone knows education is one of the key issues in this country today. It's consistently in the top five items voters say they will consider when picking a president next month. To back this up, each candidate has spent a fair amount of time going over their education plans while they stump. I'll climb out on a limb and say No Child Left Behind is a phrase that most citizens recognize today.
So how come it's increasingly obvious that education won't be a factor in November? Here are four reasons why education is being kicked to the curb:
While education is a top concern for many Americans, it's not the top concern. Nor is it the second concern, or the third. In fact, often it's the fifth-most important topic in a race that seems destined to be decided by the top four issues.
A September Gallup poll looked at the most important issues in four key battleground states. You guessed it: the economy, terrorism, the situation in Iraq and health care.
A report released by Pew Research this August asked voters their top issues, but broke down the results depending on who people said they supported. Those named as "certain Bush" voters listed education as their fifth most important priority. The "certain Kerry" voters put education third, and the swing voters listed education fourth.
I'd bet if I Googled Swift Boat or the National Guard and Bush, I'd find considerably more hits than that I would for education and this election.
The candidates aren't that far apart on the issue. Both John Kerry and John Edwards voted for No Child. In fact, in a 24-page working paper contrasting the candidates' education proposals, the Brookings Institution declared, "A direct comparison is difficult, in large part because neither candidate has been specific enough about his future intentions."
Time magazine concurred: "On education, the differences between a Bush and a Kerry Administration would likely be small."
Kerry has said his "Great Teacher for Every Child" proposal would cost $30 billion over 10 years. Bush also calls for more funding for teacher training in his 2005 budget. Kerry has guaranteed mandatory funding levels for states, and he has vaguely promised to alter how schools are designated "in need of improvement" under NCLB. According to Time, Bush would "hold firm on labeling schools failing and instead focus on allowing kids to leave low-performing schools and go to charter schools or use vouchers."
Even if the candidates were diametrically opposed as to how to handle K-12 education, the majority of voters aren't sure what they want.
A Gallup poll in September proved this when it asked people, "What would be the best way to improve K-12 education in the U.S. today?" Answers were all over the map. The biggest group, 15 percent, said quality teachers who were better educated was the top way to improve education. But on a list that had 19 reasons, from "Get rid of NCLB" (2 percent) to "Put God back in school" (1 percent), 10 percent of the respondents said they had no opinion.
Education really isn't a national issue. Sure, it's important and many people care about it, but most would rather see their community in charge of their children's education. If voters want the federal government to butt out, they aren't going to be inclined to offer suggestions.