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Once, I Went to a Foreign Policy Debate … and an Education Fight Broke Out

by Jeanne Allen
October 23, 2012

Some were confused that the presidential candidates in last night’s debate, ostensibly about foreign policy, pivoted so often to the education and the economy. I was surprised, too, but I didn’t share the view that these subjects were “off topic.” Both candidates recognize that for the U.S. to remain competitive abroad and safe at home, we must have a solid domestic foundation, including a robust education system that produces citizens who can compete in the global economy, and who are qualified to protect us.

Prior to the debate, I suggested there were two critical education reform questions that needed to be addressed – national security and competitiveness. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did the candidates address both, but that they went further, discussing the skills gap, teachers, and how education is a driver of economic success.

Some highlights:

• Governor Romney discussed the need to put parents, teachers, and kids first, and asserted that the teachers unions to get behind this principle.

• President Obama talked about the need for more math and science teachers, since American students lag many other developed nations in those subjects. He made the point that our success in these areas will determine whether we have the highly skilled workforce necessary for new business creation, and to make the U.S. attractive to investment.

• Romney talked about the lack of jobs for kids coming out of college and that we can’t fix the economy without fixing that.

• Obama said that if we don’t have the best education system in the world, we will lose our competitive edge over other countries. He argued that Romney’s budget would cut education and undermine that goal.

• Romney expresses pride in Massachusetts’ achievement record, asserting that the federal government didn’t help them get there.

Both candidates took the opportunity to press their now well-established positions – President Obama for teachers, class size and more money; and Governor Romney for standards, performance, and local control.

Whatever side of the issues you fall on, it’s a “win” when education reform enjoys such prominence in a presidential debate. Here’s hoping it stays in the forefront in the next four years.

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For more on where Romney and Obama camps stand on critical education issues, head over to our Education and the Presidential Candidates page.

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