Five Education Topics Candidates Must Address
Iowa State Fair, Des Moines, Iowa – August 2015
Photo Credit: Donna Krache
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ike the major presidential candidates, I spent last week in Iowa and made a stop at the Iowa State Fair. No, I’m not running for anything, but that all-American atmosphere of anything-fried-on-a-stick along with baby-kissing, hand-shaking politicians got me thinking about what I would say to the candidates if I could have a few minutes of their time away from the crowds.
So like any good educator, I did my homework. I heard candidates’ speeches and listened to reactions. I went to the candidates’ websites in search of detailed position statements and noticed that only one or two even mention education, albeit in the context of a politically vague phrase like “improve opportunity” — or if they are giving away free college tuition, always a winner with young voters. There’s a lot of pandering. But a serious discussion about this crucial component of our society, education, much less a demonstration of any understanding of it? I didn’t see it.
I’m not naive. I realize that in the minds of many, there are more important issues. The economy, terrorism, job growth, immigration — any or all of these issues may trump (no pun) education as priorities in the minds of many voters. And the candidates have strong views on each, but when it comes to education, there seem to be a lot of glittering generalities and few specifics, which tells me they don’t know what they are talking about on an issue that should demand some serious focus.
So here’s my suggestion: The way I see it, there are five topics any serious presidential candidate needs to address to prove his/her “street cred” in education. And the positions on each need to be thoughtfully developed with solid reasoning that convinces voters that these positions make sense for students, teachers, parents and society as a whole.
Here are the five broad topics that candidates need to develop and articulate positions for and the questions they need to guide them:
1- Assessing student performance – How do we determine whether learning has taken place? How do we measure student progress? The recent PDK/Gallup poll indicated that most Americans believe there is too much standardized testing in public schools. What’s your response to this? Is there another approach we should be taking to assess student performance? Who (or what) quantifies “progress”? What constitutes a “failing” school? How should we address students in a “failing” school?
2- Evaluating teacher performance – Most teachers I know don’t object to some sort of performance evaluation, but is tying it to student test performance really the answer? (When a patient dies, do we label the doctor “ineffective”? See my August 11 column on Teacher Evaluation.) How would you propose to assess teacher performance and raise the status of teachers to attract and retain the best?
3- Crumbling physical structures – In many parts of the country, school buildings house the same students from generations. Some of them, especially many of those in the cities, are in abysmal shape: Many adults would be horrified to use the restrooms in some schools I’ve visited, and they wouldn’t put up with this in their offices. What do you propose to do about this? What should the federal government’s role be, if any, in the maintenance of these buildings and construction of new ones?
4- Common Core – Please articulate that you understand what the Common Core State Standards are, including their pedagogical pros and cons, before you further politicize CCSS with phrases that have nothing to do with education. Then take a position that’s based on a solid educational rationale. We may not all agree with you, but we will respect you for arriving at your stance this way.
5-The Role of the Department of Education – The U.S. Department of Education currently administers a budget of over $67 billion and has a huge staff: Its organizational directory, which doesn’t even include all its employees, is 41 pages long. That’s a lot of resources. How would you propose to channel all of these resources to truly benefit the schools that the DOE serves? What do you believe the role of the DOE should be? If elected, what qualifications would you seek in a potential secretary of education?
I’m not asking for much. I don’t expect to find a candidate with whom I agree on all five topics. All I’m asking for a kind of position “road map” that demonstrates that the candidate has some knowledge base and wants to talk beyond “improving education” for all.
But, Mr./Ms. Candidate, I do ask that as you develop your education platform, you actually talk to teachers and principals, not bureaucrats. Spend real time with them. Find out what’s working and what isn’t. They are the real experts as to what is going on in the classroom, and that is where education policy needs to start.
And if you really want to demonstrate some education street cred, stop with the catchy titles. Please, no more “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” Spend more time talking to the right people and researching the problem, and less time on school photo ops. We need real leadership on this issue that’s been relegated to runner-up status for way too long.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of Donna Krache.