During nearly four hours of debate over a single weekend, neither NBC’s David Gregory nor ABC’s George Stephonpoplis (former democratic operative) managed to ask about educational policy. Instead, an excessive amount of time was dedicated to discussing social issues and fielding hypothetical questions bordering on the bizarre. One of the more perplexing lines of questioning was the continual badgering by George Stephanopoulos about whether a state could “ban the use of contraception.” Despite George’s earnest expression of urgency, the reality is that no state has ever remotely considered enacting such a ban. It would probably be opposed by the overwhelming amount of the American people, and has little relevance to the presidential debate. The average viewer’s impression was that George Stephanopoulos was trying to alienate and marginalize the Republican candidates rather than use the opportunity for an intelligent conversation. He was appropriately booed by the audience for wasting the country’s time.
NBC’s David Gregory barely performed more responsibly. He chose to spend large amounts of time on social issues such as gay marriage, and took time to editorialize about Republican opposition to the president. This again came at the expense of important educational issues, and thus he failed to flush out differences between the candidates. After what is approaching twenty debates, it is still largely unknown what each potential commander and chief will attempt to do with current Department of Education programs (other than Ron Paul who would characteristically eliminate the whole thing). While all Republican candidates are expected to be advocates of some form of school choice such as, increased voucher programs, charter schools, or other reform incentives, these specifics have not been elicited by the mainstream media. At a time when nearly 50% of U.S. Schools failed No Child Left Behind standards, both moderators gave partisan and poor presentations.
Meanwhile, off the main stream media radar, specific legislation battles are being waged by governors and states. In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels is implementing a School Choice Scholarship Program (voucher) to provide all children access to a range of educational opportunities, no matter where they live, or their income level. A similar reform in Castle Rock Colorado established a tuition voucher program for some students who want to leave the district and attend private schools. Push back on these initiatives has been strong by public teacher unions afraid of losing their monopoly on students. Castle Rock will likely face a lawsuit later this year to shut down, or at least, halt any future changes. Leading in the East, Chris Christie of New Jersey has enacted a number of educational reforms in 2011, which include the conversion of high-performing nonpublic schools located in failing school district into charter schools. These and many other important school choice reforms will be tested. Hopefully, as the primaries and Presidential campaign roll forward, more media attention will be given to educational reforms and policies which will prepare the next generation to successfully compete in the twenty-first century.
But I doubt it.