Maybe tonight’s presidential debate will finally be the one where school issues make more than a cameo appearance.
The format will be a town hall meeting at Belmont University, near Nashville. Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama will field questions from undecided voters, mostly hailing from the surrounding area, although some questions will be submitted via the internet. The moderator is Tom Brokaw of NBC News.
Tennessee, which includes urban school districts such as Memphis and Nashville, as well as lots of small, rural districts, has grappled with education funding, curriculum issues, and implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act over the past year. (Thanks to my colleague, Dakarai I. Aarons, for filling me in on the issues in play there).
Just today, the largest newspaper in the state, The Tennessean, ran this story , which details how leadership issues helped spur a partial state takeover of the Metro Nashville school district. Neither candidate has been too specific about how his administration would help schools and districts that have continually failed to meet the achievement targets of the NCLB law. Tonight would be a good time to find out.
And earlier this year, the Tennessee state board of education voted for new high school graduation requirements that will get rid of current math and reading tests and replace them with end-of-course exams.
Both presidential candidates have voiced support for standards and accountability, but neither has talked much about whether they would seek a real change in the rigor of standards that states set for high school graduation. Again, something that undecided voters in Tennessee might want to press them on.
And Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, had hoped to boost spending for pre-kindergarten programs in the state, but the cloudy fiscal forecast has made that increasingly difficult.
Sen. Obama has said he’d like to spend $10 billion more a year on pre-kindergarten, some of it to help states develop programs for kids from birth to age 5. Sen. McCain hasn’t talked about funding levels but he has said that he’d like to bring salaries for pre-K teachers closer in line with their K-12 counterparts. He hasn’t said whether the federal government would help foot the bill.
Let’s hope that at least one of these undecided voters is interested in hearing McCain and Obama address these questions.