For education to remain an increasingly important domestic policy issue in the 2012 elections, policymakers and candidates will need to clearly link education and the economy, a panel of education experts from both sides of the aisle concluded after a spirited discussion at an AEI event on Wednesday. Moderated by AEI's Frederick M. Hess, the panel touched on a number of key education issues in this election year, ranging from the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act to the impact of the Obama administration's reform agenda to the president's State of the Union vision for containing college tuition prices and raising the high school dropout age to 18.
One major question, fostered by Hess and Andrew Kelly's recent volume "Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit: Lessons from a Half-Century of Federal Efforts to Improve America's Schools," was, "What can the federal government do well when it comes to education reform, and which issues are best left to state and local government and individuals?" According to Peter Cunningham of the U.S. Department of Education, the federal government is at its best when promoting transparency around data issues and using the bully pulpit and incentives, all with an eye to driving state and local actors. Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform agreed, emphasizing that a renewed focus on data over the past decade has "changed the conversation and allowed all sorts of different coalitions to form . . . in terms of getting things done on the ground."
David Winston of the Winston Group, however, was quick to point out that for any federal action in school reform to matter to the public, it has to be connected to the economy and jobs, a conclusion echoed by the rest of the panel and one that is good for policymakers to bear in mind as they prepare for the upcoming elections.
The 2012 election cycle is off and running, with big implications for America's schools. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) awaits reauthorization. The Obama administration is implementing new regulations targeted at for-profit colleges. Standoffs between the GOP-controlled House and the Obama administration have yielded budget brinksmanship, while domestic spending has been squeezed by massive deficits. President Obama, following in the footsteps of the Bush administration, has aggressively championed federal education initiatives like Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation fund. Meanwhile, the Republican primaries have been marked by candidates' rejection of an active federal role in education, as several have pledged to "turn out the lights" at the U.S. Department of Education.
What do the 2012 elections hold for education? What will happen this year when it comes to ESEA, for-profit education and federal education spending? Join us at AEI for a conversation that will consider these issues against the backdrop of the new book "Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit: Lessons from a Half-Century of Federal Efforts to Improve America's Schools," edited by AEI's Frederick M. Hess and Andrew P. Kelly.