Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Presidential Debate: Education Issues Break the Surface

The first presidential debate was peppered with references to education issues, although some of the more controversial topics, such as vouchers and teacher evaluations, barely surfaced. However, education did come up significantly earlier and more frequently than in 2008, when it wasn’t referenced until the closing moments of the final debate in the series.

Based on my unofficial score card, President Obama made more direct references to education than Republican nominee Mitt Romney. CNN also clocked the total speaking time on education at around four minutes for Obama compared with about two minutes for Romney. That totals about six minutes out of the 90-minute debate.

Obama twice invoked the importance college affordability, and gave a shout-out to community colleges as vital to workforce retraining and boosting economic opportunity. Romney mentioned school choice, but not specifically vouchers, as well as the importance of teacher quality. The former Massachusetts governor also sang the praises, repeatedly, of the Bay State’s top-ranked schools, citing them as evidence of his commitment to public education.

Romney made it clear he’s a fan of Race To The Top, a central component of Obama’s education policy reform. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was also the only member of the president’s cabinet to be singled out for praise during the debate.

There were some education-related zingers. Obama pointed out that not every student can borrow money from their parents to pay for college, a direct reference to Romney having had the advantage of his family’s wealth. Romney questioned the need for 47 different education training programs spread out across eight federal agencies.

The Politics K-12 blog noted via Twitter during the debate that Romney’s brand-new pledge not to cut education funding was arguably the big news of the night. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the coming days and weeks. As the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli tweeted last night, Romney’s comments “are going to make it harder for him to cut ed(ucation) funding if elected.”

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