Education in the Campaigns: A New Stature
Nine Presidential candidates will gather in North Carolina this week for an unprecedented event in American politics: a major national debate focused solely on education.
The large number of contenders expected to participate in the televised forum--including all seven Democrats and two Republicans--signals new political stature for education in the race for the White House.
So much so, that although the candidates are just beginning to frame their agendas, some observers are already predicting that2p6questions about schooling will capture more attention in 1988 than in any Presidential race in recent history.
However the issues play out, the sensitive preprimary atmosphere has prompted many of the contenders to begin scouring the country for ideas and advice about education--turning to everyone from prominent experts to local teachers.
But far from being a systematic process, the search for people who can help develop and refine candidates' education proposals is often ad hoc and highly individualistic--with almost as many approaches as there are candidates.
"It seems in a sense to be random," says A. James Reichley, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution who has worked on previous Republican platforms.
"The candidates themselves know people with whom they have consulted over the years. The people who work for them know people. It's like many other things; there are many networks whom people call on."
Edward Lazarus, a partner with Information Associates, a Washington-based polling firm, agrees: "It's as much a who-you-know type of game as it is anything else. Most people are trying to get ideas and information and find talent. And wherever it is that they can find talent, they're happy to take it."
Some sources are obvious. Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Bill Honig, state superintendent of education in California; Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States; Marc S. Tucker, executive director of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy; Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, and former Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina have all been contacted by several campaigns.
In addition, the presidents of the two national teachers' unions--Mary Hatwood Futrell of the National Education Association and Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers--have spoken with numerous candidates.
Indeed, most national experts and education organizations are happy to provide advice to both Republican and Democratic hopefuls on what is termed "a nonpartisan basis."
But below that level is a "vague realm of consultants," or what one political observer describes as the "uncrowned advisers" to the candidates.
Doug Tuthill, a high-school teacher from St. Petersburg, Fla., became one this spring, when he telephoned Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, to offer support for his campaign.
Mr. Tuthill soon found himself critiquing speeches, writing position papers, and campaigning and gathering ideas for the Senator at the nea convention in Los Angeles in July.
'Like a Job Search'
"It's almost like a job search," says Kirsten Nyrop, senior domestic policy and economic adviser to Representative Albert Gore Jr., Democrat of Tennessee. "You talk to five people, and they give you five names, and then those people give you five names."
Joel Cunningham, president of Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, for example, was recently surprised to get a call from Mr. Gore's campaign.
"Apparently my name was suggested by one or more old friends in Tennessee, where I grew up and went to school and was a faculty member and administrator before coming to Susquehanna eight years ago," he said.
A staff member in Vice President George Bush's office adds, "I'm sure [our effort] is as disorganized as anybody else's. It's people whom the Vice President has known, or people who have volunteered to help him out. I don't think there's any coherent effort to seek out X people. ... He tries to reach out to a broad audience."
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, who is a supporter of Mr. Bush's candidacy and a long-time friend of his chief of staff, is one whose views have been sought by the campaign.
But most experts note that at this early stage in the race, candidates are still focusing more on fundraising and image building than on detailed policy positions.
"Historically, even as recently as 1976, Presidential candidates did not tend to even think about things like platforms at this stage in the game," says Mr. Reichley of Brookings. "But everything has tended to move earlier and earlier. In the past, it didn't happen until after the primaries were over."
'No Education Czar'
For now, candidates are relying on both formal and informal mechanisms to refine their education policies.
U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri, convened a 10-member education task force in late spring that included academics, former governors, nationally recognized experts, and a local schoolteacher.
Barry Piatt, communications and issues director for the campaign, says the Congressman talks to such people periodically. But he adds: "No one has been installed as his education czar.
"There's not anyone whispering in his ear trying to fill in the blanks. What he says is pretty much coming straight from the horse's mouth."
To prepare for this week's debate, Mr. Gore spent two hours on a recent Saturday with Mr. Cunningham; Richard Berendzen, president of American University; Mr. Tucker of the Carnegie Forum; Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the education and human resources program at the Rand Corporation; and Senta A. Raizen, study director for the committee on indicators of precollege science and mathematics education at the National Research Council.
"The way these sessions usually go," explains Ms. Nyrop, "is that he says 'This is what I've been saying about education, go ahead and take shots at it. Go ahead and criticize it."'
Draw on Experience
Most candidates also rely on past experience for their ideas.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, a Democrat who is expected to formally declare his candidacy soon, has spent hours inside schools in his role as the founder of Operation push-excel, a nonprofit education organization.
When he walked into an interview with the leader of the NEA this month, he was not even briefed, according to one adviser.
"When it comes to education, a subject he has been directly concerned and involved with, there is relatively little outside work going on," says Ann F. Lewis, a Democratic political consultant who is working with Mr. Jackson on a number of issues.
"It's not a subject upon which he is going to convene a committee of experts," she adds. "It's a subject upon which he feels very comfortable speaking."
In addition, candidates who are current or former governors or U.S. Congressmen have a ready-made network of experts on their staff and a wealth of ties with the "education culture."
Senator Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, is a former member of the House Education and Labor Committee and a current member of the Senate Budget Committee.
"Most of his preparation has been with people who have been working with him for a long time on education," says Jim Killpatrick, national press secretary for the Senator's campaign. Another aide noted that many of Mr. Simon's ideas come from his earlier experiences in the Illinois legislature.
Besides such national figures as Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, and Mr. Boyer, the Senator maintains ties with such Chicago leaders as George Munoz, former president of the city's school board, and Jacqueline Vaughn, president of the Chicago Teachers' Union, an AFT affiliate.
Other candidates--particularly former and current governors, such as Bruce Babbitt, Democrat of Arizona--also tend to draw on acquaintances from their home state.
But Presidential campaign aides generally insist that their candidates' ideas on education are their own, and they are reluctant to name sources in the education field--in part, some aides also say, to protect the nonpartisan standing of their advisers.
A number of education experts, similarly careful to maintain their nonpartisan stance, hesitate to identify themselves with any one campaign.
The vast array of written material available to candidates also provides a ready source of information. The national teachers' unions and other education organizations routinely provide candidates with their published views. And this year, each candidate has received a copy of the Carnegie Forum's report on the schools.
Candidates have also discovered experts through their writings. Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts met with John Brademus, president of New York University, after reading some of his articles on higher education and research.
And in 1984, former Democratic contender Gary Hart sent staff members to meet with Denis Doyle, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, after reading articles that Mr. Doyle had written for the Washington Post.
This year, Mr. Doyle has talked with several candidates, including former Gov. Pete du Pont of Delaware and Senator Robert Dole of Kansas, both Republicans, and Mr. Babbitt.
'Experts Are Everywhere'
In addition, almost everyone knows someone personally who is a teacher, former teacher, principal, or school-board member, says Betty Owen, former education aide to Mr. Hunt of North Carolina.
Mr. Biden's wife, for example, is a teacher and NEA member who has hit the campaign trail on his behalf. Governor Dukakis's mother is a teacher who gave her son the middle name of the elementary-school principal who encouraged her to go on to college.
One problem, says Arthur E. Wise, director of the center for the study of the teaching profession at the Rand Corporation, is that "everybody thinks they know enough about education."
"In other fields, there is a feeling that you have to consult experts to find out what is wrong and what solutions are necessary," he says, "but in education, everyone is an expert or has a friend or relative who is."
In addition, says Mr. Newman of ECS, Presidential candidates are interested in those questions that are on the public's mind, not necessarily in the issues that the experts or the academics want them to push.
"They are not trying to govern the country," he says, "they are trying to run for President."
But, he adds, "candidates know that one way you get support is to ask for help."
Many candidates have sought advice and support from the national teachers' unions, whose members represent a sizeable political force.
Democratic candidates, in particular, have made it a point to talk with the leadership of both unions, at their invitation. In addition, the teachers' groups have made their views known to candidates in the form of written materials and questionnaires.
Ms. Futrell of the NEA has conducted videotaped interviews with each Democratic candidate. No Republican has agreed to be interviewed. But Mr. Dole has completed the questionnaire, and Vice President Bush and Mr. du Pont sent letters to Ms. Futrell expressing their views.
The videotapes, along with the candidates' responses to the written questionnaire, will be distributed to every union local this fall as part of the organization's endorsement process.
Iowa and New Hampshire
In addition, the candidates are actively soliciting the views and backing of union locals in Iowa and New Hampshire--two of the early primary states.
According to this month's issue of NEA Today, Angie King, chairman of the union's political-action committee in Iowa and a 3rd-grade teacher at the King-Perkins Elementary School in Des Moines, has already been invited to breakfast with Mr. Biden, to fly with Mr. Babbitt on his campaign plane, and to picnic with Mr. Gephardt. And she has met with Mr. Simon and Mr. Dukakis at the union's headquarters.
But, in general, says Marilyn G. Monahan, president of the NEA's state affiliate in New Hampshire, candidates are more interested in presenting their policy statements than in getting teachers' views.
"Ask me your questions and size me up" is their typical approach, she says.
George Brown, staff liaison with the political-action committee in Iowa, agrees: "I really don't think they are coming to us and asking what we want in the way of education. It's more of a courtesy call than anything else."
Mr. Boyer of the Carnegie Foundation says candidates may look to the unions less for ideas than as a political force to be reckoned with.
"I have a hunch that the teachers' unions are viewed more in terms of the political implications and not their education policy," he says. "I imagine that a candidate thinks about the NEA and aft more in terms of whether a close affiliation would be an asset or a liability, and not so much in terms of what their agenda is."
Other educators are also taking steps to make their views known.
The American Council on Education, the principal umbrella organization for postsecondary education, has convened a group of roughly 30 university presidents, academics, business leaders, union representatives, and education experts--including Mr. Boyer and Mr. Newman--to draft a report expressing their consensus on education policy.
Known as the "Friday Commission"--after its chairman, William C. Friday, former president of the University of North Carolina system--the group will focus its report primarily on the collegiate level. But it will also include sections on the linkages between higher education and the K-12 system.
Subgroups of the committee plan this fall to brief each Presidential campaign staff personally on the report's recommendations. The ace has also invited all of the contenders to its annual meeting in January.
Another group of educators met once a week for lunch during the latter part of the 1976, 1980, and 1984 campaigns to share views and information with Presidential candidates and their representatives.
Individuals who attended the luncheons met on their own time and did not represent their organizations. In 1984, there were two groups: one in higher education and one in precollegiate education.
Says one participant: "We heard the candidates pick up on what the groups were talking about. We're talking about putting it together again."