In June, the Public Education Network (PEN), a national association that works to advance public school reform, released the results of an opinion poll which measured the public's attitudes about education. The poll was largely ignored and received scant publicity.
The poll found that along with soaring gas prices and a sagging economy, which were the public's top two concerns, Americans ranked education as the nation's third priority that local leaders need to address, ahead of health care, crime, traffic congestion, taxes and the environment. Three times as many respondents felt that education was the nation's top issue as did people who listed homeland security our chief priority.
When President George W. Bush assumed office he proudly wore the mantle, "Education President."- The President said that he had no higher priority than education and his signature No Child Left Behind Act passed Congress in 2001 with over 90% support.
Neither presumptive presidential candidate has unveiled anything like a comprehensive education package to rival or replace NCLB and the media don't bother asking. Education has been relegated to the political backwaters.
Indicative of the gap between the importance the public places on education and the focus of candidates on other issues in this election season, the PEN survey found that sixty percent of respondents said that they had not heard enough about educational issues while only four percent said they had heard too much.
It's hard to understand why candidates are not talking about education because the public certainly doesn't think our system has been fixed.
Americans are frustrated with public schools according to the survey. More people say their local schools have declined in quality over the last five years as say the schools have improved (32%-26%). By an over 2:1 margin (40%-15%), respondents say that on a national level, schools are declining versus improving. What's more significant, is that the public's negative performance evaluations have increased since the last PEN survey in 2006.
There are several inescapable conclusions to draw from the PEN poll. First, Americans are frustrated with the performance of their public schools both locally and nationally. Second, the public's attitudes about schools have grown more negative in the last two years. Third, people do not feel they are hearing enough about educational issues in this election season.
It is time to put the education of children back onto the political front-burners where it belongs, and for the media to turn up the heat on the American presidential candidates to discuss the specifics of their education proposals.