10/23/2012 09:15 am ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

Finally, a Debate About Education

Who would have guessed that it would take a debate on foreign policy to reveal what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney think about education?

And who would have thought that it would be the final debate before the president of the United States clearly stated his vision for the next four years?

I wasn't thrilled about the topic of the third and final debate between the two presidential candidates being limited to foreign policy. Thankfully, and despite the best efforts of moderator Bob Schieffer, the topics ranged far from that narrow perspective and gave us our best glimpse yet of the choice we have to make in two weeks.

Mitt Romney's perspective on education was painfully simplistic: He hates unions and, oh, by the way, "I love teachers." News flash, Gov. Romney, unions are teachers and they are filled with trained professionals who work day after day to help children to reach their full potential. Unions are not the protectors of an ever-growing cadre of lazy, shiftless bums who arrive just before the first bell, leave immediately at the last one and play Farmville and work crossword puzzles the rest of the day.

Romney's best ploy on education was to note how well Massachusetts did while he was governor, and yes, that state's schools were right at the top when he was there, thanks to a hardworking group of teachers and administrators and a predominantly Democratic legislature that invested heavily in children and their education. And the first thing the governor did was to cut funding for the number one schools in the nation.

That point was made succinctly by President Obama but last night, unlike in the first two debates, the president not only pointed out the problems with the Romney vision of what American should be like, but also noted how his view differs and what direction he would like to see this country head in the future.

The president spoke of ending our entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan and investing money in this country. That vision included education from the youngest child to the worker who needs to be retrained to keep pace with the ever-changing job market.

The Obama plan centered around investment of money for education and research, a stark difference from the draconian cuts that have been the hallmark of Romney's pronouncements, though, of course, Romney has never been specific about exactly what he would cut (just that it would be about everything except defense).

The president also promised to end the one-way shuttle that has sent our jobs overseas and gave tax breaks to the companies so they could do so. That is vital for education to be successful in the United States. As long as we keep rewarding so-called job creators who show contempt for their country by moving jobs overseas to save a few dollars and receive tax breaks, we ensure that education will never be able to keep pace with the needs of the job market.

The biggest difference between the two candidates on education, however, harkens back to the one major disagreement that has always been a centerpiece of this long presidential campaign- taxes.

Under the Romney plan, the status quo would stay the same as it has since the Bush tax cuts were enacted. We would continue with the fiction that the people with the most money, those who are inaccurately labeled job creators, would take some of that money and put people to work. Unless we tie the continuance of those tax cuts to actual job creation (of jobs that pay decent wages), that is never going to happen.

On the other hand, President Obama is asking that the people at the top end of the tax brackets, the people who have continued to prosper while everyone else is having to pinch pennies to make ends meet, pay more and invest that money into education and research, the kind of investment that will keep this country on top.

There is much that I do not like about President Obama's education policies, with his naming of the woefully underqualified Arne Duncan as secretary of education at the top of the list.

I have been uncomfortable with administration policies that favor creation of unproven charter schools and encourage basing teacher pay on the results of poorly written standardized tests.

But even with the administration's flawed education policy, it is light years ahead of what is being proposed by the opposition. Vouchers, drastically cut funding for education, and blaming "unions" but not teachers (because as we all know, Mitt Romney loves teachers) are a formula for destroying public education.