Gore, Bush Come Out Swinging On Education
The first TV advertisements of the presidential general-election campaign highlighted education, and the tone was decidedly negative.
Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush go after each other in recent
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee, first went on the offensive this month with an ad airing in four states.
“Is the status quo in America’s schools good enough?” the announcer asks. “Under Al Gore and Bill Clinton, national reading scores stagnated. America’s high school students place almost dead last in international math tests. The achievement gap between poor and nonpoor students remains wide. Gore and Clinton had eight years, but they’ve failed.”
The ad proceeds to cite Mr. Bush’s accomplishments, saying, “As president, George W. Bush will challenge the status quo with a crusade to improve education.”
Not to be outdone, Vice President Al Gore—who has clinched the Democratic nomination—shot back quickly with a 60-second ad of his own.
“George W. Bush. From South Carolina to New York, he used dirty politics to trash John McCain’s record. Now he’s running attack ads against Al Gore,” the announcer begins.
But after complaining about Mr. Bush’s “attack” ad, the Gore campaign dished out its own tough rebuttal.
“Bush’s Texas record? Forty-fifth in the nation in SAT scores; an accountability system so full of cheating it’s under investigation; Texas ranked the 48th-worst state in America to raise a child.”
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Read the complete text of Gov. Bush’s new ad.
The announcer promises “revolutionary improvements” to schools if Mr. Gore is elected and concludes: “On the issue of education, America deserves a real debate, not more negative ads from George W. Bush. Al Gore is ready. Is George W.?”
Each ad contains information that fails to tell the whole story. For instance, while the Gore ad criticizes Texas students’ performance on the SAT, it neglects to mention that the state’s scores on the National Assessment on Educational Progress, a national benchmark, have gone up.
And while the Bush ad bemoans the nation’s stagnant reading scores, results from the latest NAEP, in 1998, reveal a more complex picture. Scores for 8th graders have increased slightly since 1992; 4th and 12th grade scores dipped between 1992 and 1994 and recovered to 1992 levels in 1998.
Both ads, meanwhile, imply that the president has a greater impact on American education than may actually be the case. The federal government provides just 7 percent of the nation’s total public school budget.
A new bipartisan poll suggests that Gov. Bush enjoys about as much voter confidence on education as Vice President Gore, closing a traditional gap between the two major political parties.
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|Read the survey results, from Voter.com.|
When asked who would do a better job improving education, 42 percent of respondents said Mr. Bush, compared with 44 percent for Mr. Gore.
The March 17 poll was conducted jointly by two pollsters, one Republican and one Democratic, for Voter.com, a nonpartisan organization. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
On another question, education was cited as the second most important issue for the next president to deal with. Improving education was selected by 13 percent of respondents; 18 percent chose “restoring moral values.”
Overall, the poll shows that Mr. Bush has a slight edge, with 48 percent of respondents indicating they would vote for him, compared with 44 percent supporting Mr. Gore. In a January poll, the vice president trailed Gov. Bush by 13 points.
—Erik W. Robelen
A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2000 edition of Education Week as Election Notebook