Education Doesn’t Matter in the 2014 Election

Despite the fact that education issues matter a great deal in policy discussions lately, and despite the fact that, as a reader of this blog, you’re probably pretty interested in education reform, it turns out politicians mostly don’t care.

An article in the Washington Post explains that candidates for election mostly aren’t saying much about education. This shouldn’t really surprise us, however. According to the piece:

A systematic analysis of campaign Web sites for the 139 major party candidates for governor or U.S. senator (there is no Democrat running for the Kansas Senate seat) shows that most hopefuls have little to say on any of these pressing questions.

Topics familiar to education reformers seem foreign to sitting and aspiring governors. Only three Republican gubernatorial candidates mention teacher tenure reform on their Web sites, while not a single Democratic candidate does. Just three out of 35 Democratic candidates mention the bipartisan cause of charter schools; perhaps even more surprising is that barely one-third of the Republicans do. In fact, just four Republicans gubernatorial candidates suggest that money should follow students to the school of their choice. Even on bread-and-butter topics, discussion is sparse: Only one gubernatorial candidate in 10 mentions community colleges, while just three out of 70 mention that they should be helping more students to graduate from high school.

The Senate races look pretty much the same. While some 81 percent of Americans apparently said education was an “extremely important” for the president and Congress to address, according to a poll cited in the article, candidates are mostly ignoring Common Core Standards in math and English, pre-K expansion, teacher tenure, and the cost of college.

Election

Why is this? Well, that’s perhaps because while Americans might say education is theoretically “extremely important,” most people really aren’t all that concerned with Common Core Standards or teacher tenure. Only policy wonks care about these things.

Actually education issues don’t matter in any election cycle.

Back in he 2012 election College Board put a whole bunch of empty school desks on the National Mall as part of its Don’t Forget About Ed campaign to try to get Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to talk about education reform more. Remember that?

Well no, probably not. That’s because it didn’t really end up mattering that much.

One of the reasons for this is probably that, while there’s a lot of disagreement about education, there’s not much partisan disagreement. Both libertarians and teachers unions hate the Common Core (and standardized tests in general), for instance but the Democratic and Republican party establishments don’t care that much about the issue.

Both parties are vaguely concerned with the cost of higher education, but aren’t planning to do anything dramatic to stop it. Both parties think our education achievement is too low and want to institute more accountability in our schools.

Very few candidates discuss education on their websites because it’s not really going to matter. It’s not likely to get most people to vote for one candidate over another.

Americans might believe education is “extremely important” but they don’t think it’s “extremely urgent.” That’s why it rarely matters when they go out to vote.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer