Campaigns & Elections

Overview

Campaigns & Elections

Thomas Jefferson, among others, is credited by historians with equating an educated populace with one that was prepared to participate and vote in a democracy. “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone,” he once wrote. “The people themselves are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”

So what role does the issue of education itself play in elections, from the White House to the local school board? The materials gathered in this Topics section tackle this question.

Thomas Jefferson, among others, is credited by historians with equating an educated populace with one that was prepared to participate and vote in a democracy. “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone,” he once wrote. “The people themselves are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”

So what role does the issue of education itself play in elections, from the White House to the local school board? The materials gathered in this Topics section tackle this question.

Presidential Politics

For the past quarter century, presidents have used the bully pulpit of the White House to address education. Presidential attention to the issue grew under George H.W. Bush, the first to declare himself “the education president”; the two-term tenure of Bill Clinton, who advanced the standards and accountability movement and promoted numerous education initiatives such as school uniforms; and George W. Bush, who brought Republicans and Democrats in Congress together behind a sweeping expansion of federal authority over education in the No Child Left Behind Act. President Barack Obama has also actively engaged his administration in education reform via his Race to the Top initiative, emphasis on teacher effectiveness, college-ready standards, and charter schools, among other policy areas.

As the federal role in education has grown over the past half century, the topic has steadily grown more prominent as a campaign issue in presidential elections. For Jimmy Carter in 1976, that meant a promise to the teachers’ unions to establish a federal department of education, a pledge he turned lukewarm about while in office but ultimately fulfilled. For Ronald Reagan, battles revolved around dismantling the new federal department, attempts to enact private school vouchers, and rhetoric around school prayer. Paradoxically, for a president who sought to limit the growing federal role, Reagan helped usher in an era of greater standards and accountability with the commission that issued the report “A Nation at Risk,” which ultimately led to an even stronger federal role.

Yet from 1960 to 1984, education failed to make its way into the forefront of presidential debates, notes Jeffrey Henig, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. In a recent paper, Henig tracks the emphasis that presidents and other elected officials have placed on education over the past half century. He finds that education didn’t appear in the top 10 issues of concern to U.S. voters until 1988, when it ranked eighth; four years later, it had moved up to fifth.

In 2008, education was far from the most prominent presidential election issue, but Barack Obama and John McCain did offer competing visions. Obama emphasized proposals to increase early childhood education, recruit new teachers, and add new tax credits for college tuition. McCain stressed school choice, in the form of expanded opportunities for charter schools.

Brief dustups over relatively minor issues have sometimes pushed the candidates’ education platforms into the foreground. In 1988, George H.W. Bush criticized Democrat Michael Dukakis over his veto of a Massachusetts bill that would have required teachers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. In 2008, McCain launched an attack ad against Obama claiming that the Democrat had supported comprehensive sex education for kindergartners as an Illinois lawmaker. The claim was inaccurate, independent analysts said, and the controversy quickly faded.

As the 2012 presidential election season neared, the journal Education Next and Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance surveyed Americans about the politics of education. The survey found that with the exception of the issues of school spending and teacher tenure, “the divisions between Democrats and Republicans on education policy matters are quite minor.”

“A clear plurality, even a majority, of the American public support a wide range of policy innovations ranging from charter schools and tax credits to tougher standards, accountability measures, and merit pay for teachers,” Education Next said. But, it went on, “pluralities and bare majorities are often not enough to alter public policy in a country where power is divided between two highly competitive and increasingly polarized political parties. If Republicans and Democrats disagree strongly on the options for school reform, changes are unlikely.”

Congressional Races

While education usually gets at least some attention in presidential campaigns, it tends to get less attention in federal legislative races, even though members of Congress play an important role in federal education policy.

At a forum on education and politics in early 2012 sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Katherine Haley, an aide to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), noted that the makeup of the House of Representatives has changed significantly since 2001, when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed. The addition of many tea party Republicans after the 2010 elections make the landscape for federal education policy difficult to predict, she said.

In a paper for an earlier American Enterprise Institute (AEI) forum, Charles Barone of Democrats for Education Reform and Elizabeth DeBray of the University of Georgia College of Education agree that many new Republicans want to see a smaller federal role in education. And greater partisanship and more cohesive party control on divisive issues mean it will be more difficult to win bipartisan agreement on federal education policy than in earlier eras.

“Partisanship and party polarization seem now to be at an all-time high,” the authors write. “This does not seem to bode well for a smooth or successful ESEA reauthorization,” they added, referring to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the current version of which is NCLB.

Still, says Haley, “Please don’t write off Congress” in the near term.

The States

The growth of the federal role in education sometimes obscures the fact that schooling in America is primarily a state function. Governors, state legislatures, state boards of education and  chief state school officers—such as commissioners or secretaries of education—all exert significant power and influence over how schools in a given state are organized and what they teach.

Governors, in particular, have their own bully pulpits at the state level, in addition to budget and policy agendas that almost always have significance for schools. And many analysts see the pendulum of influence over education policy swinging back from the federal government to the states, and their governors. “Governors have the biggest piece of the money, and they have stepped up their game” over the past three years, Peter Cunningham, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s chief spokesman, said at the AEI forum. “Governors are going to be in the driver’s seat, and that’s the way it should be.”

State lawmakers, especially those on education and budget committees, also play an influential role, of course. Post-election shifts in which party holds the reins of legislative power can trigger policy changes felt in districts and schools.
  
As for state boards of education, a mix of models complicates the picture. The National Association of State Boards of Education defines four main models. In the first, the governor appoints the state board, and the board selects the chief state school officer. This covers 12 states. In the second, the state board is elected and then appoints the chief state school officer; that model prevails in eight states. In the third, in place in 11 states, the governor appoints the state board, but there is an independently elected chief. And finally, in nine states, the governor appoints the state board and the chief.

Those models cover 40 states. There is a mix of other arrangements in the remaining 10 states, such as a blend of elected and appointed state board members, or a state board appointed by the legislature.

A total of 14 chief state school officers are popularly elected. But in a few of those states, a separate “education secretary” or some similar officer serves on the governor’s cabinet.

For the education reporter, the state board and the state department of education are often under-covered sources for news about decisions that are felt in the classroom.

The Local Level

The most fundamental political unit for public education governance in the United States is the school board, where thousands of local citizen-legislators oversee nearly 14,000 school districts that employ more than six million teachers and other workers and serve more than 52 million children.

Nearly 95 percent of board members are elected, usually in nonpartisan races, according to the National School Boards Association. President Bill Clinton said once said that when he left office, he might run for his local school board, something he hasn’t followed through on since leaving the White House.

Three out of four school board members spent less than $1,000 on their elections, and nearly half reported that their elections were easy, an NSBA report said. Well more than half receive no salary, but about 15 percent are paid at least $5,000 per year. The most significant decision for virtually every board is the hiring of the professional school superintendent to carry out district educational policies. Other traditional functions include having the final say on employment, real estate, and other business matters of the school district. One area where boards have played a lesser role is in adopting policies that deal with student achievement. The NSBA reports, however, that that has changed in the No Child Left Behind era, as the demands of school accountability have forced local board members to confront such issues more frequently.

For many years now, the school boards group and other advocates for local governance have been on the defensive. That’s because many critics have zeroed in on school boards as a 19th Century anachronism.

“We need to steel ourselves to put this dysfunctional arrangement out of its misery and move on to something that will work for children,” the right-leaning education scholar Chester E. Finn Jr. has written. “In far too many places, today’s school boards consist of an unwholesome mix of aspiring politicians, teacher union puppets, individuals with some cause or scheme they yearn to inflict on everyone’s kids, and ex-employees of the system with scores to settle.”

Political scientist William G. Howell of the University of Chicago notes three trends that have contributed to the decline of school boards. One was the movement toward mayoral control of schools in large cities such as Boston, Chicago, and New York City, where the powers of elected boards were either eliminated or sharply curtailed. Second, the school choice movement—in the form of charter schools, private school vouchers, and choice options both within and across district lines—has shifted power from elected boards to parents. And third, he notes, the standards and accountability movements have meant that the purposes of education have increasingly been defined from “on high.”

But there are some positive notes for the elected school board. Howell has found that when turnout is high, voters have been more likely to hold incumbent board members responsible for the test-score performance of schools. Frederick M. Hess, an education analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, notes that elected school boards provide transparency in decision-making. And despite widespread complaints about board dysfunction and micromanagement, nearly nine out of 10 school superintendents describe their relationships with their boards as mostly cooperative, Hess says.

The nation’s schools can hardly be described as removed from politics, but they do represent common ground to the degree that people from all political backgrounds agree on their need to succeed.

“For Americans, education isn’t an issue, it’s a value,” David Winston, a pollster participating in the AEI forum said. “The key for reformers is to explain the desired outcome to voters.”

Latest News

State Superintendent Candidate: Challenger Offered Six Figure Job to Drop Out of Race

A candidate for state superintendent offered an opponent a taxpayer-funded $150,000 job in order to drop out of the race and sought the same for himself if he dropped out, his challenger said Wednesday.

Candidate John Humphries said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal that during discussions between him and opponent Lowell Holtz, Holtz proposed in writing that either he or Humphries should drop out in exchange for the guaranteed three-year job with the Department of Public Instruction should one of them defeat incumbent Tony Evers in the general election. 

Latest News

Protesters Briefly Block Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s Visit to a D.C. School

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos encountered protesters Friday morning outside a D.C. middle school and found her way barred as she tried to enter through a side door, forcing her to retreat into a government vehicle as a man shouted “Shame!”

Eventually, DeVos got inside for an event starting at about 10 a.m. that included the D.C. schools chancellor and others. The event was closed to the media.

But the demonstration outside Jefferson Middle School Academy was a further sign that DeVos remains a polarizing figure in the education world days after she took office.

Latest News

Betsy Devos Made Her First Visit to a School as Education Secretary: Howard University

Betsy DeVos, just sworn in as education secretary after Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to confirm her appointment, visited Howard University on Thursday to meet with university leaders.

It was her first visit as secretary. On Friday, she visited Jefferson Academy, a public school in Washington, where protesters greeted her outside the school.

Latest News

Betsy Devos Can Change Education In America Without Doing A Thing

Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos narrowly squeaked through the Senate on Monday, winning confirmation by a vote of 51 to 50 after Vice President Mike Pence weighed in to break the tie.

DeVos is the most controversial education secretary ever. She was confirmed with fewer votes than any Cabinet secretary in history. If Democrats hadn’t abolished the filibuster on executive branch nominees in 2013, DeVos’s opposition would have relegated her to the heap of Cabinet might-have-beens.

Latest News

What Educators, Advocacy Groups Are Saying About Betsy Devos’ Rocky Confirmation

Education and advocacy groups reacted swiftly to Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Education Tuesday, with supporters praising the West Michigan native and opponents questioning whether she’ll promote school choice at the expense of traditional public schools.

DeVos was confirmed following a marathon 24-hour debate in the Senate, where Democrats decried the West Michigan native as inexperienced and said her support of taxpayer-funded vouchers and charter schools have undermined traditional public schools.

Latest News

With Historic Tiebreaker From Pence, Devos Confirmed As Education Secretary

The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as education secretary Tuesday by the narrowest of margins, with Vice President Pence casting a historic tiebreaking vote after senators deadlocked over her fitness for the job.

DeVos now takes the helm of the Education Department with questions about whether and how the polarizing fight over her confirmation will affect her power to advance the Trump administration’s agenda.

EWA Radio

Betsy DeVos Is Secretary of Education. Now What?
EWA Radio: Episode 108

Betsy DeVos takes the oath of office.

Kimberly Hefling of Politico discusses the new U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed Tuesday after Vice President Mike Pence was called in to break a 50-50 tie in the Senate. What will be her top priorities moving forward? How aggressively will the new secretary push school choice, and how likely is President Trump’s $20 billion school choice plan to gain traction? Has DeVos lost political capital during the bruising confirmation process? Was she held to a higher standard than other nominees for President Trump’s cabinet? And how much power will the Republican mega-donor have to roll back the Obama administration’s education policies and initiatives? 

Latest News

Here’s Why Betsy DeVos Will Likely Be Confirmed, Despite Pushback

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education, is at the center of a social media maelstrom and has stirred more opposition than any other candidate for secretary in the department’s more than three decade history. However, DeVos only needs Republican support to be confirmed. And the GOP controlls the U.S. Senate 52 to 48. That means, if all the Democrats vote against DeVos as expected, three senators would need to flip to defeat her.

Latest News

School Choice Group Denies Coordination With DeVos

A school-choice advocacy group formerly chaired by Betsy DeVos is denying any ongoing coordination with her after a staffer purported to invite guests on her behalf to a congressional nomination hearing. Critics say the invitation — included in email correspondence obtained by The Detroit News — raises questions about DeVos’ ties to the nonprofit American Federation for Children, which she said she resigned from Nov. 22 after President Donald Trump nominated her to lead the U.S. Department of Education.

Latest News

Students and Scholars are Stranded After Trump Bars Travel for Nationals From 7 Countries

An executive order signed by President Trump late Friday afternoon immediately barring immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. has had immediate effects on scholars and students. More than 17,000 students in the U.S. come from the seven countries affected by the immediate 90-day entry ban: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Member Stories

January 6 – January 12

More districts and states are enacting rules to monitor school water safety. “The action is an acknowledgment that the largely voluntary testing system present in most of the country isn’t sufficient,” writes Stacy Teicher Khadaroo for The Christian Science Monitor.

Eric Kelderman of The Chronicle of Higher Education with an important insight into the likely education secretary under Trump: “Ms. DeVos shows her belief in developing civil society through the contributions of individual citizens rather than government.”

Latest News

Dick and Betsy DeVos Lift the Veil On Their $139m in Philanthropy

 There’s no question Dick and Betsy DeVos garner lots of attention — and criticism — for their outsized political donations. But those are pocket change compared to their charitable contributions, which add up to nearly $139 million over their lifetimes.

As U.S. Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos’ contributions to Republican candidates and school choice causes are being scrutinized ahead of confirmation hearings on Wednesday, the West Michigan couple is lifting the veil on the millions in philanthropic giving that’s being funneled through their foundation.

Latest News

Trump’s Education Nominee and Family are Major Donors to the Senators Who Will Vote on Her Confirmation

Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, is not just a prospective Cabinet member seeking confirmation from the U.S. Senate.

She is also a billionaire Republican donor whose family’s donations have funded the campaigns of many of the senators now tasked with voting on her nomination, including members of the committee overseeing her confirmation hearing next week.

Latest News

‘School Choice’ Or ‘Privatization’? A Guide To Loaded Education Lingo In The Trump Era

Some people — including President-elect Donald Trump — believe that to improve U.S. education, the nation should stop spending so many tax dollars on public schools and instead invest in alternatives, including charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools.

They say they are part of a movement for school choice, for empowering all parents, regardless of income, to select the best learning experience for their children.

Member Stories

December 15 – December 22
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

This company trains schools how to respond to active shooter attacks, reports Dan Carsen for WBHM. Unlike other training, this group, which has partnered with 3,700 districts, encourages staff and students to fight back.

A heartwarming tale or a case study in picking favorites? Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel examines the merits of a Florida university absorbing a bionics company and the worries other firms have about an unfair competitive environment.

Latest News

‘Fake News,’ Bogus Tweets Raise Stakes for Media Literacy

Last year, Leu’s New Literacies Research Lab found that fewer than 4 percent of 7th graders could correctly identify the author of online science information, evaluate that author’s expertise and point of view, and make informed judgments about the overall reliability of the site they were reading. Educators and advocacy groups have responded by promoting the notion of “media literacy.” A coalition of nonprofit organizations announced last month a campaign to lobby states to pass new legislation that would promote such instruction in schools.

Latest News

Another News Site Wrestles with a Potential Trump Conflict of Interest

Former network TV anchor Campbell Brown has always said she wanted her education-news site, The 74, to be perceived as a nonpartisan source for improving the nation’s primary- and secondary-school education.

But Donald Trump may have just dumped a major conflict of interest right into Brown’s, and The 74’s, lap.

By naming billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos as his pick for secretary of education on Wednesday, Trump put Brown in the awkward position of covering one of her closest allies.

EWA Radio

Trump Is Elected: What’s Next for Education Policy?
EWA Radio: Episode 97

Donald Trump spent little time on education issues during his campaign, but his victory is sure to have big implications. Journalists Alyson Klein of Education Week and Andrew Kreighbaum of Inside Higher Ed discuss the likely impact on P-12 and higher education. What will be President-elect Trump’s education priorities, and how will the GOP-controlled Congress respond? Will Trump follow through on his campaign pledge to provide $20 billion for school choice? What will be the fate of existing federal policy like the new Every Student Succeeds Act? And how will Trump approach the hot-button higher education issues like student loan debt and accountability?  

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Latino Students, Charter Schools and the Massachusetts Ballot Question

This Election Day, Massachusetts voters will decide whether to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state — a hotly contested ballot measure that’s drawn more than $34 million in fundraising among the two sides and garnered national attention, with parents of students of color and advocates for minority students on both sides of the issue.

Member Stories

October 20-October 27
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

In Texas school districts, it’s often the men who are calling the shots. Shelby Webb of The Houston Chronicle explores why it’s the case that in a state where three out of four teachers are women, only one of five superintendents are female. Click here to bypass the story’s paywall.

EWA Radio

Is ‘Trump Effect’ Hurting Students?
EWA Radio: Episode 94

Donald Trump speaks at campaign rally.

New York Times best-selling author Dana Goldstein (“The Teacher Wars”) discusses her reporting for Slate on whether Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s fiery rhetoric is trickling down into classrooms. Teachers across the country have reported an increase in bullying and other inappropriate behavior. Some organizations – such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Federation of Teachers – say those problems are a direct reflection of the tumultuous political season. But how much of this really starts outside of schools, and what are reasonable expectations for schools to navigate controversial political events? Goldstein offers insights and historical context for teachers who must balance instructional objectivity with their own political views. She also suggests story ideas for reporters covering the issue in local schools. 

EWA Radio

Battle in the Bay State: Charter Foes and Supporters Square Off
EWA Radio: Episode 92

(Flickr/Ariel Waldman)

In Massachusetts, a referendum on charter schools is drawing national attention. At issue is whether to raise the state cap on the number of independently operated, publicly funded campuses, and allow existing schools to boost enrollment. But there is also unusually aggressive – and expensive — campaigning on both sides of the issue, raising questions about outside influence on the decision before Massachusetts voters.

James Vaznis of The Boston Globe talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about what’s at stake on the upcoming ballot, whether the Bay State’s reputation for high-achieving charter schools pans out, and how questions of diversity and equity factor into the fight.

Member Stories

September 2-September 8
Highlighting some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

What does it mean to be ready for colleges and careers? How can a state measure its schools’ progress in keeping students on pace to do well after high school? California officials are trying to answer these questions with the state’s forthcoming College and Career Readiness Indicator, reports Fermin Leal for EdSource.

Des Moines schools are venturing beyond the standard lunch fare of chicken nuggets to appeal to an increasingly diverse student body, reports Mackenzie Ryan for the Des Moines Register.

Multimedia

Pre-K-12 Education in the 2016 Race
The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1

Pre-K-12 Education in the 2016 Race

Experts and advocates assess how early childhood and K-12 education issues are factoring into the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They offer analysis of the candidates’ campaign positions and explore the complex politics of education policy. They also discuss other key elections around the nation with big stakes for education.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

Seminar

Election 2016: New President, New Education Agenda
Washington, D.C. • November 14, 2016

The election of Republican Donald Trump is sure to reshape federal policy for education in significant ways, from prekindergarten to college, especially coupled with the GOP’s retaining control of Congress.

Although Trump spent relatively little time on education in his campaign, he did highlight the issue from time to time, from his sharp criticism of the Common Core and high student debt loads to proposing a plan to significantly expand school choice. And Congress has a long to-do list, including reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Seminar

The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1
Washington, D.C. • August 30, 2016

Now that the White House race has narrowed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how is education playing out as an issue in the campaign? Will it prove an important fault line between the Democratic and Republican candidates? Will Trump offer any details to contrast with Clinton’s extensive set of proposals from early childhood to higher education? What are the potential implications for schools and colleges depending on who wins the White House? Also, what other races this fall should be on the radar of journalists, whether elections for Congress, state legislatures, or governor?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Teachers’ Union Applauds Clinton Address, Except on Charters

Hillary Clinton shares her views and agenda for education in a July 5 speech to delegates for the National Education Association.
Photo credit: @KristenRec

Hillary Clinton vowed to be a partner with educators if she wins the White House, during a speech today to the nation’s largest teachers’ union. Clinton drew enthusiastic applause from National Education Association members for most of the address, including her calls to make preschool universally available, boost teacher pay, and ease the burden of paying for higher education.

But the presumptive Democratic nominee got a far more muted response, and even some jeers, when she made a positive plug — albeit very briefly — for charter schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Trump’s Education Agenda, in 52 Seconds

Trump’s Education Agenda, in 52 Seconds

With Donald Trump now seen as the presumptive Republican nominee for president, after his strong victory in the Indiana primary, attention surely will grow to what he would actually do if elected.

If you want to know where Trump stands on education, you might think the first place to go would be his campaign website.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

K-12 Education Seen as Side Issue in White House Race

Source: Flickr/ via Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

K-12 education hasn’t been a top theme this presidential campaign cycle, but reporters could be more aggressive in mining information from the candidates on the topic, analysts said at a national forum this week.

Historically, education hasn’t played prominently on the campaign trail, said Martin West, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The 2016 presidential election is no exception – although this race for the White House has also proven wildly unpredictable.

EWA Radio

Iowa Is First: The Presidential Candidates – and Their Education Plans
EWA Radio: Episode 57

(Flickr/Phil Roeder)

Iowa prides itself on holding the first caucuses of the presidential election year. EWA public editor Emily Richmond talks with statewide education reporter Mackenzie Ryan of the Des Moines Register about what it’s like to be at the epicenter of the presidential race insanity, her coverage of Republican hopeful Marco Rubio, and the big concerns for Iowa voters when it comes to public schools. 

Key Coverage

Jeb Bush Got His Way on Affirmative Action in Florida. Then He Got a Mess.

On affirmative action, Bush was not just burnishing his conservative credentials by abolishing what he called “stupid” and discriminatory race-based set-asides in Florida’s higher-education system and government-contracting sphere. He also was trying to preserve a pipeline to education and employment opportunities for minorities that would, he promised, actually improve their access to college and state contracts.

Key Coverage

Make College Free for All

Today, there is universal access to free, public schools across the United States for kindergarten through 12th grade. That didn’t happen by presidential decree. It took populist pressure from the progressive movement, beginning in the 1890s, to make widespread access to free public schools a reality. By 1940, half of all young people were graduating from high school. As of 2013, that number is 81 percent. But that achievement is no longer enough. A college degree is the new high school diploma.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Higher Ed. Gets Brief Spotlight During Democratic Debate

Twitter/@NBCNightlyNews

It took nearly two hours, but education — more specifically college affordability and some differences in how to address it — came to the fore in the first Democratic presidential debate after CNN co-moderator Dana Bush asked both Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about their plans.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Debt-Free College: Why It’s News Now

As Democratic presidential hopefuls assemble in Las Vegas today for their first formal debate, one topic that has received little airtime during the Republican face-offs is likely to garner far more attention: the high cost of attaining a college degree.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

CNN Debate Aside, Ed. Finds Way Into Presidential Race

Twitter/@YahooNews

Education didn’t exactly make a splash in this week’s Republican presidential debate — barely a ripple, actually — but the issue has gained considerable attention in the 2016 contest for the White House, from debates over the Common Core to proposals on higher education access and affordability.

EWA Radio

Summer Reading List: “The Prize”
EWA Radio: Episode 38

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In 2010, billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced an unprecedented gift: he would donate $100 million to the public school district of Newark, New Jersey (dollars that would eventually be matched by private partners).

Dale Russakoff, a longtime reporter for The Washington Post, spent more than three years reporting on what turned into a massive experiment in top-down educational interventions—with decidedly mixed results. 

Seminar

69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Get Dollars to Schools That Need Them

"Covering the Economics of Education," April 20, 2015.

At a speech in December, Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve, took the United States to task for the way it funds schools.

“Public education spending is often lower for students in lower-income households than for students in higher-income households,” she told the audience at the Conference on Economic Opportunity and Inequality, in Boston.

Reporter Guide

Reporter Guide: Campaign Finance

Campaign finance might seem like the exclusive province of political reporters, but there are many good reasons why you should be paying attention – both in races for education positions and in other key races at the local, state, and federal levels with implications for education. You’ll need basic math and it helps to have familiarity with a spreadsheet, but you’ll find that once you’ve mastered the basics, a good campaign finance story can take on the fun of light detective work.

EWA Radio

Is Kochs’ High School Finance Class Pushing Conservative Agenda?
EWA Radio, Episode 8

This week, Emily and Mikhail talk to Joy Resmovits of The Huffington Post, who discusses her story (written with colleague Christina Wilkie) about the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s creation of Youth Entrepreneurs: a public high school finance course being used in schools in the midwest and south, which was designed to introduce students to free market theory and economics with a distinctly conservative point of view. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Weingarten Talks Teachers, Politics and Common Core

Lyndsey Layton (right) of The Washington Post interviews Randi Weingarten at the 67th National Seminar.

When Randi Weingarten gets depressed about the state of public education, she told attendees of EWA’s 67th National Seminar, she calls up memories of her students at the “We the People” competition in upstate New York a couple of decades ago.

Report

School Discipline Data: A Snapshot of Legislative Action – CSG Justice Center

Research suggests that suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary actions that remove  youth from their classrooms put students at greater risk for poor academic and behavioral outcomes. These students are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, receive future disciplinary actions, or become involved in the juvenile justice system. Youth of color, English Language Learners (ELLs), LGBT youth, and those with identified special education needs tend to experience exclusionary discipline actions at higher rates than their peers.

Reporter Guide

Using Polls in Education Reporting

Polling isn’t exclusively the province of political reporters. A handful of national surveys released each year focus on education, including the Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll about public attitudes toward education and MetLife’s annual survey of teachers. There’s also often polling done for statewide education-related elections, such as ballot measures or state superintendent races, and, periodically, by news outlets and advocacy organizations on various education-related issues.

Organization

The National Education Association

The National Education Association is the nation’s largest teachers’ union with nearly 3 million members. Its members work at every level of education, from preschool through postsecondary, but the bulk of its members work in K-12 education.

Key Coverage

Where Paul Ryan Stands on Issues Important to Colleges

Among the largest higher-education items targeted for cuts in Mr. Ryan’s budget proposals are the federal student-aid programs. He has called for ending the in-school interest subsidy on undergraduate Stafford loans and tightening the eligibility requirements for the Pell Grant program. He would completely cut off Pell eligibility for students attending college less than half-time.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Word on the Beat: Proficiency

As a regular feature, The Educated Reporter features a buzzword or phrase that You Need To Know (yes, this designation is highly subjective, but we’re giving it a shot). Send your Word on the Beat suggestions to erichmond@ewa.org.

Word on the beat: Proficiency

Organization

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a right-leaning think tank focused on education policy. According to its mission statement, the institute aims to advance “educational excellence for every child through quality research, analysis, and commentary, as well as on-the-ground action and advocacy in Ohio.”

Organization

The National School Boards Association

The National School Boards Association is a nonprofit organization that works with federal agencies and other national associations to influence education policy as it pertains to school boards.

The Association has been particularly vocal on issues of the quality of the academic programs some cyber charters offer, citing in a report from May 2012 a “troubling” lack of “good information about results and accountability.”

Organization

National Association of State Boards of Education

The National Association of State Boards of Education “works to strengthen state leadership in educational policymaking, promote excellence in the education of all students, advocate equality of access to educational opportunity, and assure continued citizen support for public education.” The organization is a nonprofit founded in 1958.

Organization

The Council of Chief State School Officers

The Council of Chief State School Officers is “a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions,” according to the group.

Report

College Board Swing State Education Survey

As part of Don’t Forget Ed, a campaign to make education a key issue in the 2012 election cycle, the College Board commissioned this survey of residents of nine swing states. Among its key findings is the assertion that “Education is a top-tier issue for voters in the 2012 elections for president and Congress, even if it does not always get top-tier attention from candidates.”

Key Coverage

Teachers Unions Notch Big wins on state education votes

Teachers unions won several big victories in both red and blue states Tuesday, overturning laws that would have eliminated tenure in Idaho and South Dakota, defeating a threat to union political work in California, and ousting a state schools chief in Indiana who sought to fundamentally remake public education.

Key Coverage

Education Ballot Initiative Results Show Mixed Returns On School Reform

Reform supporters come from both parties, and tend to push for charter schools and grading teachers in accordance with their students’ standardized test scores. In some states, like Connecticut, South Dakota and Idaho, voters dealt the movement a significant blow, pushing back controversial measures that would have ended an elected school board, abolished teacher tenure and instituted merit pay.

Key Coverage

Obama Finding Teacher Support Secure, If Tepid

The 20-year classroom veteran says he’s grateful to Mr. Obama for pouring billions of dollars into saving teachers’ jobs and investing in early-childhood education. And he’s very worried about GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s plan to turn more than $25 billion in federal education funding for special education and disadvantaged children over to parents, who could then spend the money at any school they choose, including a private school. That could ultimately undermine the public system, Mr. White said.

Key Coverage

Romney: ‘I’m Not Going to Cut Education Funding’

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, in his most detailed comments about education spending yet, pledged during Wednesday night’s debate with President Barack Obama in Denver that he would not cut federal education funding if elected—even as he made the case that he’s the best choice to rein in a mounting deficit.

Key Coverage

State Ballot Measures Include Hot K-12 Issues

Some of the education-related ballot items, like those in Arizona and California, are part of the perennial effort to obtain more financial support for schools and seek to help K-12 school systems recover in part from the Great Recession and subsequent economic stagnation. But other proposals—such as ones in Idaho and South Dakota—represent resistance from teachers’ unions and other groups to changes they view as antagonistic to public education, such as reduced collective bargaining rights or a bigger emphasis on standardized testing.

Key Coverage

Vouchers Gain Foothold Among State, Local Democrats

But at the state and local levels, Democrats’ views on vouchers are more diverse and nuanced than what is suggested by the party’s national platform, which makes no mention of private school choice, or by the policies of the Obama administration, which has consistently opposed providing public money for private school costs. Some Democrats see vouchers as offering an escape hatch for students who would otherwise be forced to stay in academically struggling public schools.

Key Coverage

Randi Weingarten At Democratic Convention: Teachers’ Union Leader Seeks Ways To Weather Criticism

The apologetic tone was not an emotional, spur-of-the-moment outburst, even if Weingarten is given to raising her voice and slapping her hand on her leg to emphasize a point. She appeared to recognize that if teachers’ unions are going to weather another round of criticism, brought on by a new Hollywood film, “Won’t Back Down,” in which the union is the bad guy, they will have to adopt a strategy that starts with conciliation.

Key Coverage

Teachers’ Unions Donate To Republican Candidates Against Abortion, LGBT & Immigration Rights

But while teachers’ union chiefs opine on the importance of social justice, tolerance, workers’ rights and abortion rights, similar scrutiny shows that in recent years, national and local affiliates of the National Education Association — the nation’s largest teachers’ union — have endorsed candidates who disagree on all those counts. Since 1989, five percent of campaign contributions by the NEA have gone to Republicans, according to public records.

Key Coverage

Speakers Spotlight Obama Ed. Initiatives, GOP Spending Threats

College affordability, global competitiveness, and Republican threats to education spending were consistent themes for governors and other high-profile speakers on Tuesday’s first night of the Democratic National Convention.
“You can’t be pro-business unless you’re pro-education,” declared San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who gave the keynote speech, in drawing a sharp and critical contrast between President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on support for schools.

Key Coverage

Teachers Unions’ Alliance with Democratic Party Frays

Teachers unions have been the Democratic Party’s foot soldiers for more than half a century, providing not only generous financial backing but an army of volunteers in return for support of their entrenched power in the nation’s public schools.
But this relationship is fraying, and the deterioration was evident Monday as Democrats gathered here for their national convention.

Key Coverage

Obama, GOP duel over rising college expenses

WASHINGTON – President Obama would make tax credits for college expenses permanent and expand Pell grants for students from lower-earning families. The Republican team of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would emphasize the need to curb rising tuitions and federal education spending that are burdening families and the government.

Key Coverage

Who Could Be Romney’s Education Secretary?

With the Republican National Convention about to kick off, it’s officially time to start speculating about who could be presumptive GOP Mitt Romney’s education secretary if he wins the presidential election. After all, way back in 2008 (Aug. 8, to be exact), Politics K-12 guessed that then-Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan could be then-Democratic contender Barack Obama’s pick on Aug. 8. So we’re actually late to the dance this year. This time, there’s not a lot of agreement among the Republicans that I polled

Report

What Does Obama Really Believe In?

When Obama ran for president the first time, urban poverty was a major policy focus for his campaign. Senator Obama gave speeches on the issue, his campaign Web site had a dedicated poverty section with a variety of policy proposals, and in his platform, he committed his administration to “eradicating poverty,” pledging that “working together, we can cut poverty in half within 10 years.” But the official poverty rate has continued to rise under Obama.

Key Coverage

Teachers Unions Give Broadly

What do the American Ireland Fund, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network have in common? All have received some of the more than $330 million that America’s two largest teachers unions spent in the past five years on outside causes, political campaigns, lobbying and issue education.

Key Coverage

Romney and Higher Ed

Few people close to Romney’s campaign or with experience dealing with him on higher education issues in the past were willing to speak about him publicly. Several Romney education advisers, past and present, did not respond to repeated interview requests from Inside Higher Ed, or declined to comment on the candidate’s record and ideas on higher education. Nor did several people affiliated with private colleges in Massachusetts and the state’s university system during his time as governor. So the education policies and attitudes of a potential Romney administration remain a mystery.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Big Payoff For D.C. Teachers, Romney Says He Would Veto Dream Act

“We want to make great teachers rich.”

I gotta admit, that’s a heck of a pull quote from Sam Dillon’s New York Times story on teachers in Washington, D.C. earning sizeable bonuses for consistently solid performance. (Side note: Sam Dillon is one of the NYT reporters taking a recent buy-out offer. The education beat will be significantly poorer as a result, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next with his talents.)

Report

Meeting of the Minds

For this 2010 report, researchers surveyed 2,800 people—which included public school teachers and people who live in neighborhoods with more than one charter school. The survey found that Democrats and republicans mostly agreed on matters of education reform.

Key Coverage

Too Big to Fix

EWA 2012 National Reporting Contest winner. Crumbling school buildings can impede academic achievement, but what happens when the public votes down bond measures to upgrade the infrastructure? This series of articles looks at the impasse between school boards and the voters, and cost-saving tricks to fine tune the walls of public instruction. (The Journal News)

Report

School Boards Circa 2010: Governance in the Accountability Era

This report offers an in-depth look at the composition of the nation’s 14,000 school boards, including the finding that “school board members, especially those in large districts, are more representative of the communities they serve than state legislatures and members of Congress.

Report

School Board Election Structure and Democratic Representation

This study looks at four Michigan cities to examine whether consolidating school board elections with overall municipal elections results in school boards that are more representative of their communities. “These analyses indicate that consolidating elections may lead to increased voter turnout and to changes in the composition of the voting population.