This week, The Huffington Post, Yahoo!, and Slate are co-sponsoring the first-ever online "candidate mashup," another way in which technology is helping us to access and judge the presidential candidates. Those Web sites asked users to submit questions for the Democratic candidates on any issue and then ranked the top three issues that Charlie Rose will ask them about. The videos will be shared on Friday, and users will be able to edit them to highlight differences among particular candidates on specific issues.
Education made the list, coming in as the # 3 issue right behind Iraq and health care. In fact, education beat out, in descending order, energy, the environment, the economy, immigration, terrorism, abortion, and gay marriage. Voters have long been ready to hear more from the candidates about education -- back in July, it was the number one issue about which voters submitted questions for the CNN/YouTube debate.
Here's the thing though -- I'm sick of the kind of education questions the candidates are being asked. Cheesy softballs (like the "Who was your favorite teacher?" bit from the CNN/YouTube Debate) or predictable check the box-type questions about the existing No Child Left Behind law do little to inform us of what these candidates plan to do about the crisis in America's schools.
Mostly I'm tired of hearing about No Child Left Behind. There's no real debate there for the Democratic presidential candidates. As Gov. Roy Romer points out at ED in '08, we've already heard that question asked of Democratic candidates a number of times and we know that they will all jump to attack NCLB.
I can already imagine the mashup Huffington readers will get to make from a NCLB question.
Charlie Rose: Do you support the existing version of the No Child Left Behind Law?
Candidate # 1: No.
Candidate # 2: Certainly not. I blame the Republicans. Down with NCLB.
Candidate # 3: Hell no! I hate it! Terrible law. Here's what I love: teacher's unions!
Candidate # 4: NCLB is a disgrace. Too many children continue to be left behind, we don't have qualified teachers in the classrooms, and more testing isn't going to fix any of that.
Candidate # 1: That's what I meant to say.
Candidate # 5: The Law-That-Must-Not-Be-Named must be destroyed!
Candidate # 6: NCLB is worse than Britney Spears at the VMAs.
Charlie Rose: Time to move on.
Candidates #7 and # 8: We never get to talk.
But Americans already know that NCLB isn't working in its present state. Consider the facts:
Six thousand kids dropped out of school yesterday, and another six thousand will drop out today, and tomorrow, and the day after that.
Seventy percent of our 8th graders aren't proficient in reading, and by the end of 8th grade, what passes for the U.S. math curriculum is two years behind the math being studied by 8th graders in other countries.
And I'm not just talking about minority students or low-income schools -- out of 29 countries participating in a 2003 assessment, America's 15-year-olds ranked 24th in math; 24th in problem-solving; 18th in science; and 15th in reading. Even America's top math students rank 23rd out of 29 countries when compared with top students elsewhere in the world.
While the candidates pander, founder, and stomp up and down about NCLB, we are losing our economic foothold to China, India, and Singapore.
Education issues aren't only about teachers and schools, test scores and politics. They're about families, income mobility, job security, economic competitiveness and making sure our kids have the skills they'll need to face the global challenges that are already rising to meet them.
This online debate, the first of its kind is an opportunity for voters to cut and paste, to choose what they want to hear about and who they want to hear it from. But that's going to be awfully hard if all they get is more of the same, and none of it good. Let's cut the lip-service about NCLB and mash-up some answers to questions that matter.