I understand that jobs and the economy are the frontline issues of the moment. But our next president needs to have his head in the game when it comes to educating our next generation. There are about 50 million students currently enrolled in American public schools. Barack Obama’s education platform and record are well documented. What do his leading challengers think about education?

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have nothing to say about education. The topic doesn’t appear on Romney’s or Perry’s campaign website. Zero.

An independent website that tracks political positions lays out Romney’s prior stances here. One representative nugget: He supported closing the U.S. Department of Education… and then said Bush was right about No Child Left Behind, which vastly expanded the reach of the Department. As a bonus, at CPAC in 2010 he used the phrase “fat-cat CEOs of the teachers’ unions” to describe who was in charge of education in America. Gov. Romney’s positions seem entirely political and substance free.

Rick Perry seems like a nightmare for anyone who cares about education. This year, he sought $4 billion in cuts to Texas schools. Advocates desperately pointed out feasible ways to avoid the draconian cuts, but Perry pursued them anyway. He is a leader in the new right wing ideology of all government spending being innately bad. The future isn’t bright in the state he has governed for 12 years; Texas leads the nation in minimum wage jobs and residents over 25 without a high school diploma.

Herman Cain actually does offer a few paragraphs of his thoughts on education. It’s not inspiring, and it leads with a lie:

“Unfortunately, education has become weighed down with administration that has shifted the focus from educating students to maintaining an excessive level of bureaucracy through expanded unionization and regulation.”

I think Cain is more interested in selling books and cashing in than in performing public service, but let’s talk anyway about his education ideas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unionization rate among workers in education, training, and library occupations is only 37.1 percent. Membership in the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, declined by 100,000 members (3.5 percent) in the past year.

So… expanded unionization and undefined “regulation” is ruining education? This is mindless boilerplate.

I’m disgusted by the field of Republican candidates. Their total lack of interest or seriousness about education is one of many red flags that a defeat of President Obama in 2012 would be disastrous.

Here is the entirety of Cain’s blurb on education:

Unbundling Education

Education is the key to unlocking a prosperous future. At the heart of education should always be the students. Unfortunately, education has become weighed down with administration that has shifted the focus from educating students to maintaining an excessive level of bureaucracy through expanded unionization and regulation. It’s time to unbundle education from the federal government down to the local level.

Of course, most teachers are in the field of education to foster intellectual development for eager minds. Through a system of accountability, we should reward those teachers whose students excel and better evaluate those whose students perform poorly. Performance incentives work in business, and they will work in education, too.

A critical component of improving education in our country is to decentralize the federal government’s control over it. Children are best served when the teachers, parents and principals are making the day-to-day decisions, coupled with the leadership of local municipalities, school boards and states. What might work for a third grader in Oklahoma might not work for a third grader in Hawaii.

Another way we can put kids first is to offer school choice as a real option for educational competition. This means expanding school vouchers and charter schools. Such measures have proven time and time again to best serve the students, many of whom do not have the economic means of attending better schools. In a post-Katrina New Orleans, these programs were immensely popular with both the parents and the students, giving opportunities to children who might otherwise have been stuck in poor-performing, if not failing, schools.

Unbundling education means putting kids first. It means rewarding those teachers who enrich the lives of their students, and it means holding those accountable who do not. It means putting students before union interests, and it means keeping their development paramount. Unbundling education means localizing education- making those on the ground responsible for the teaching and learning that happens in our local communities. Unbundling education means offering parents choices for their children to create a truly competitive educational system.


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