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Voting for Education and a Stronger Democracy

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It is less than one week before election day. What have you heard about education?

It should be alarming to every American that many of the nation's gubernatorial and congressional candidates have said precious little on the campaign trail about education policy and practice. Rather than being clearer about how they intend to strengthen and protect this bedrock of our democracy, the candidates have instead focused their energy on debates and campaign ads that do more to attack their competitors than to address the issues.

According to an estimate by the Center for Responsive Politics, more than $4 billion will be spent on campaign advertising alone for the midterm elections. Similarly, millions are being spent at the state level in support of potential governors. If those investments by candidates and outside organizations had instead been spent on education, we would be able to pay the salaries of more than 80,000 teachers, or we could send more than 80,000 students to an Ivy League school for one year. I have to ask, what is wrong with our priorities?

The dire state of our economy has been at the center of much campaign debate, but we cannot afford to overlook the necessary role that education serves in reversing the country's economic woes. In many states, our new political leaders who will take over local, state and federal seats on November 3 will have to make important decisions about how critical investments are made in education. Without an open and sincere public dialogue about our children and their education, voters can't be certain whether candidates share our concerns about the future opportunities available to young people.

Research shows that investments in education are one of the clearest avenues to economic gain. Six hundred thousand students dropped out of high school in the nation's 45 largest metropolitan areas in 2008. If just half of them had graduated, they likely would have generated as much as $4.1 billion in additional income and $2.8 billion in spending, much of it in their home states. As candidates look for ways to stimulate the economy, improvements in education and the reduction of high school dropout rates should be an essential part of any meaningful discussion.

Many sitting governors, regardless of party or political persuasion, have already recognized this chance for growth. In 2010, the National Governors Association partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers for the Common Core State Standards Initiative to establish a clear set of academic standards designed to strengthen education opportunities for all students. Common Core State Standards allow states to collaborate on education initiatives and to share materials and best practices. The initiative helps state educational systems work together to create policy and practice changes needed to help ensure that all students, despite race or socioeconomic background, graduate from American high schools prepared for college, work, and success in the global economy.

To date, more than 30 states have adopted Common Core State Standards, seizing this opportunity for meaningful and lasting education reform. But adoption of the standards is only the first step. Effective implementation is critical to ensuring that the reforms are meaningful, and support for effective implementation must come from our political leaders at every level.

Implemented effectively, Common Core State Standards can reduce long-standing disparities for children of color and Native students, who have been disproportionally affected by low standards. The initiative also will benefit if re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a priority for our new Congress when it convenes in January. These are vehicles that can help improve our education system for all students, reducing costs and increasing graduation rates. Unfortunately, too many candidates have been silent on these issues and so have remained silent about all that these tools have the potential to improve: the quality of our students' teachers, strategies for improving opportunities for students to learn outside of traditional school hours, effectively gathering data that accurately represents every student population, and more.

We are on the cusp of meaningful changes that hold our schools and our students accountable for their successes and failures. But without candidates willing to discuss education, there is no clear understanding of what will happen to these important policy and practice opportunities come November 3. Voters everywhere should take heed. You deserve to know how candidates will reverse the dropout crisis plaguing our high schools and guarantee a promising future for every student.

Demand answers. Hold your candidates accountable and force them to tell you how they will deal with education in your state. Dropping out of the discussion at this juncture is simply unacceptable.