The Education Election

November 01, 2000 1 min read

The Education Candidate is everywhere this election. Of course, we’ve seen him (or her) in years past, too, helping a cute kid scratch out a math problem or standing by a great teacher who sure could use a raise. But in the 2000 campaign, he’s been omnipresent—in debates, on the air, and in schools—talking about education with a furrowed brow, a preacher’s solemnity, and a promise that education will be his No. 1 priority. “You are not a serious candidate these days without an education policy,” commentator Peter Schrag observed earlier this year.

It’s easy to see this phenomenon as a one-time thing, a byproduct of the fact that peace and prosperity have left voters with nothing to worry about but test scores. Like a 100-year flood, this fall’s poll numbers, with education topping the list of the public’s concerns, probably won’t be seen again in our lifetime.

But make no mistake: Education has arrived as a political issue. Nearly 20 years ago, a landmark report titled A Nation At Risk warned that bad schools posed a threat to this country worse than any invading army. From that, elected officials and political activists concluded educators could use their help. Ever since, they’ve been reaching into schools to dictate how money’s spent, how classes are taught, and even how kids should speak to teachers—"Yes, ma’am. No, sir.”

This trend is not bad in and of itself; political pressure has leveraged some welcome change. But as our package of stories illustrates, it’s transformed education policymaking and the culture of schools themselves. For as politics has become more about education, education has become more about politics.

— The Editors

Schools and politics make for strange bedfellow. But as our Campaign 2000 package of stories illustrates, you better get used to it.

Guess Who's Coming To School. The candidate wants to teach a history lesson, eat pizza with the kids, and stay overnight at a teacher's home. And he'll be here soon. Includes: "Kiddie Campaigns"—kids say the darndest things. Secretarial Pool. The short list of the men (and woman) who might be the next secretary of education. Includes: "School's Out For Riley," an interview about what's next. See Joyce Run. Teacher Joyce Elliott has battled segregation and a powerful union. Her next challenge? Elected office. Ballot Busters. You might think this election's bumper crop of school-related citizen initiatives is a healthy sign of democracy in action. Think again. Includes "Yea Or Nay?," a rundown of education-related ballot initiatives.