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The VP Debate: Another Good Night For Ed Reform?

by Jeanne Allen
October 11, 2012

Last week’s Presidential debate was a pleasant surprise from the perspective of this veteran education reformer accustomed to sitting through years of debates, listening to candidates talk about important issues like the economy, jobs, and national security with a barely a mention of the building block for the solution to all of those problems – EDUCATION.

President Obama and Governor Romney proactively peppered comments on education throughout their discussions, giving the American people a pretty good idea of their different positions on the topic.   As we look forward to tonight’s Vice Presidential debate, I hope that Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan follow the lead and make education a major topic in the debate.  I want to hear more about the two tickets’ vision for education in this country.

What do they believe is the role of the federal government in education?  How will they address the skills gap and the still very present achievement gap in this country?  How should we pay, train, and retain teachers?  And of most importance to me: will the Obama/Biden ticket take the opportunity they missed last week to embrace school choice?

Once upon a time, Joe Biden voted to authorize a program of school choice for DC students. Under President Clinton, Biden was one of a few democrats who parted company with their party to authorize school choice, but the approval of the program was vetoed.

In an interesting twist of fate, Paul Ryan was the staffer for the committee overseeing DC operations chaired by then Senator Sam Brownback, and school choice and charter schools, not yet realized in the district or in most states was something the Senator explored. Many of us were called to testify and offer information and research from around the country.  The reform plan Congress first developed for the District of Columbia was a result of Paul Ryan’s work, and Joe Biden’s vote.

Ryan would go on to embrace school reform in many additional ways, while Biden has moved to the mainstream of his party and not been nearly as vocal as his early votes indicated he might someday be.  Will such distinctions show tonight?  Imagine these two gentleman, both whose records show support for school choice, both who value the role of Catholic education in solving some of our nation’s toughest education problems, embracing the same notions for the country on education!

But whether they come together or not, I hope that tonight’s debate doesn’t result in a pandering to poll-tested phrases about class size and money and teachers, but instead amplifies what the two candidates know to be true about what works in education. What works is not the status quo, but a robust ecosystem where quality-learning opportunities are available to everyone by choice and tied together with clear performance-based accountability.  They know that. Let’s hope they share that with the millions watching.

I’ll be watching – and live tweeting! – so be sure to follow @JeanneAllen and @edreform tonight for running commentary on what I hope will be another good night for ed reformers (no matter what side of the debate you fall on).

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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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