Super Tuesday is upon us, and voters are likely nearing the selection of a GOP candidate to oppose President Obama in November. As people go to the polls in ten states on Tuesday, what should they be looking at in choosing their candidates?
We hear that the voters of 2012 care only about things like "jobs and unemployment," "retirement security," "housing" and "debt" -- those things that make up the "Big E," what we commonly refer to as "the economy."
But there's another "E" missing from the equation that actually feeds -- or starves -- even the best economy. It's called Education, and its reform is the imperative for a nation that continues to lag in achievement and finances.
In every state and community, education reform is the battle cry for those most afflicted by the nation's 2,000 failing high schools, and for the approximately 70 percent of kids who are not learning at either national or international benchmarks. There are solutions to these true economic deficiencies (yes, education is vital to a healthy economy!) ranging from more choices in public and private education, teacher and parent empowerment, higher standards, better content, online delivery, tenure reform and more.
I don't know why the candidates don't seem to recognize, or discuss this. Where are the media pundits on the candidates' positions on K-12 education? Is it fatigue? Apathy? We have heard for so long how terribly broken our education system is. The problems seem intractable, and perhaps voters are simply tired of hearing about it.
If that's the case, I suppose it's understandable. After all, the most recent Nation's Report Card was particularly grim, showing that barely 40 percent of our 4th- and 8th- grade students are proficient in math and reading. SAT and ACT scores have remained flat, demonstrating that a majority of our students are not ready for college. And globally, the United States has slipped to 16th in college education attainment, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
That's why the candidates should be asked the hard questions, and why they should talk about the most controversial answers. We must insist the candidates use their public positions to address the issues most connected to the economic mess we are in: education.
"Choice" and "accountability," once not even in the vernacular, are now the watchwords of education reform, but in many places they are still just that: words. We must continue to demand schools and teachers be held accountable for better results. As students in communities across the country are being offered more and better choices where their own schools are failing, we must remember that far too few are empowered to do so.
If you are in one of the ten Super Tuesday states, make it clear that education is not some "other" thing -- a luxury issue that we can only afford to consider when times are flush. Tell your friends, your media and your candidates that education reform is fundamental to our nation's economic success.
Tucked away in a corner of every candidate's website lies a position paper that describes his solutions to a problem that desperately needs fixing. Voters should find it, read it, and consider it when making their decisions --- on Tuesday and in November.
It's basic math, really: A vote for real education reform = a vote for an improved economy.
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