Why is Education So Low on the Political Totem Pole?



Rhonda J. Summey, Ed.D.

Joblessness, hopelessness and a lifetime dependency on the government—this is what Condoleezza Rice said would result if the current issues surrounding public education were not addressed.  In her speech, at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week, Rice took just a moment to speak on the ills of public education. However, as the RNC comes to a close and the Democratic National Convention is in full-swing in Charlotte, the questions of where education is in the 2012 race continue to surface.

What a coincidence that the beginning of the school year, in many cities, coincides with both conventions. Indeed, there has been very little discussion regarding education outside of the few words from Dr. Rice at the RNC and an address by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the DNC. This is the first time in recent months that we have seen education elevated to a place where it should be — on the actual agenda of both political parties.

As we begin a new school year, educators brace for the numerous challenges that must be endured.  While many school systems have fewer teachers, and even fewer of those hired are truly highly qualified, schools are expected to do the same or more with a leaner school budget.  With this fact, we must necessarily face the bleak reality that poorly-trained teachers cannot prepare a generation of students who must compete on a global scale.

The College Board, a leader in education advocacy, has clearly expressed its expectation that public education should be a focus in the dialogue between the presidential candidates.  According to Peter Kauffmann, the College Board’s communication chief, education has yet to be a tier one issue on the campaign trail.  But that proclamation doesn’t make much sense because as Kauffmann goes on to say, “Education is the foundation of our economy, national security, and if we don’t get that right, everything begins to crumble.”  Thank you, Mr. Kauffmann.  You may have seen a cute little t-shirt that says, “Without a teacher, no other profession would be possible.”  This sentiment is not just a slogan to get educators excited for a new school year, but something more far-reaching and far more ominous.

While educators wait on politicians to bring the discussion of American public education and its impact on our society and the world community to the national stage, teachers and administrators forge ahead with what little they have.  Further, they wait with optimistic hope that the politicians they elect will create lasting changes that will repair the damage that years of apathy and neglect have caused.  Educators do seem to appreciate that Dr. Rice, unlike many other politicians, took the time to briefly mention public education and its abysmal state in her address. The former Secretary of State and current educator even went on to place education among other civil rights.  However, while she says a good education is a civil right, where are the candidates in making this a reality or at least starting the discussion? We know it’s the economy stupid, but what is the economy without education?

Education—the kind that nurtures and prepares our children— needs to be at the forefront of this election because truly, we can no longer afford the contrary.

Rhonda J. Summey, Ed.D. is an educator in the Prince Georges County School system. She holds education degrees from Northwestern University, Harvard University and George Washington University. 

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