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Campaign 2012: The Successful Failure Of ED In '08

On January 15, 2012, veteran education researcher Craig Jerald was feeling a little frustrated by the lack of discussion about education in the Republican primary debates. So he logged into his Twitter account to vent to his four hundred–plus followers:

“Presidential debate moderators have mostly ignored education. Anyone miss ED in ’08 now???”

Screen shot 2012-06-20 at 1.20.22 PMED in ’08 (Education in 2008) was an effort to make education a big part of the 2008 presidential campaign—to make the candidates take education seriously and talk about it during debates and on the campaign stump. Four years later, most others remembered it as a costly failure, if they remembered it at all.  It didn’t take long for longtime thinktanker Andy (“Eduwonk”) Rotherham to respond to Jerald’s tweet:

“OK, but what’s a good price per question? Those were expensive.”

The largest single-issue advocacy campaign in the history of education reform, ED in '08 was shuttered after just sixteen months and written off by outside observers and the funders themselves. Rotherham was referring to the mere twenty education-related questions that moderators had asked the candidates in 2007 and 2008. 

Heading into the 2012 campaign season, no one gave any serious thought to repeating the experiment. And yet, education advocacy organizations very much like ED in ’08 have proliferated in the years following the 2008 elections, as has philanthropic support for political advocacy. The Obama administration’s education priorities have resembled those pushed by ED in ’08 in several key regards. And, as Jerald noted, the 2012 campaign has been thus far devoid of much substantive discussion about education reform. 

“At the time, it seemed irrelevant. Though in retrospect it may have set the groundwork. Little did we know.”

That's the opening to my new report on ED in '08, just out from AEI (here).


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From my viewpoint, federal intervention on schools (NCLB) hasn't been very effective. After it passed, teachers started pushing, really pushing, students to score well or else. I had one teacher who told us that our score on the mandated tests would become part of our grade, so if we didn't do well, we could fail her class. Some teachers use scare tactics and that's not right.

I'd like to see states have a little more say and see if that can get schools back on track.

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