The final presidential debates before actual voting begins with next month’s Iowa caucuses offered little new in the way of education ideas, but candidates from both parties seemed to sharpen their focus on what might fix the ills of American public education.
For Republicans, it’s private school choice.
“The answer to the problem in education in America is simple: We need more choice and more competition,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona said during a Republican debate on Dec. 12 in Johnston, Iowa, echoing the sentiments of his GOP colleagues.
For the Democrats, it’s early education.
“The starting place is to get to children young and get them on the right track, which is why we ought to have universal pre-K for 4-year-olds in America,” former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said during a Dec. 13 debate in Johnston. Both were sponsored by The Des Moines Register.
Another Democrat, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, briefly brought up an issue that hasn’t been talked about much during the numerous debates this year: the costs of special education. She said that fully funding the federal portion of special education would be a priority of hers if she is elected.
Otherwise, the talk about education proved redundant in all three recent debates. But that didn’t mean there weren’t some bold claims made.
In the Dec. 9 Republican debate in Miami sponsored by the Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said that if the nation embraced school choice, he could turn schools around in a mere three years.
He said, “We can revolutionize public education in this country by allowing for choice.”
The following day, in the Democratic debate, Sen. Barack Obama said he had a cure for the achievement gap that’s plagued many schools: “Early childhood education,” he said. “That will close the achievement gap that we see, particularly for minority children, because oftentimes they are already behind when they start school.”
A version of this article appeared in the December 19, 2007 edition of Education Week