Education and the 2012 Election

For decades, Americans have been searching for The Education President -- that one person who could put the school system on his or her back, make education the government's top priority and bear the heavy burden of reform. Unfortunately, every four years it seems like a new issue comes along that pushes education to the back burner (the economy, terrorism, healthcare).

Will 2012 be any different? It's too soon to tell. But for education advocates like myself and my colleagues at the College Board, this election is a unique opportunity to seize the public dialogue and steer it toward a serious conversation about the future of education.

That was the idea behind the College Board's first ever presidential candidate forum, Education and Election 2012, held last week at our annual College Board Forum. Moderated by former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein and Wall Street Journal editor Paul Gigot, Education and Election 2012 featured businessman Herman Cain, former Senator Rick Santorum, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Each presented strong ideas and unique perspectives, offering our audience their solutions to America's education problems. And whether the topic was raising standards, the allocation of funds, or the role of vocational schools, I was excited by some of their more innovative ideas.

To be clear, the College Board does not endorse, support, or oppose any particular candidate for office. We invited all candidates running in the Republican primary to participate, and extended an equal invitation to the Obama administration. What we do support is a robust national dialogue that helps our members and all Americans learn about candidates' positions on education issues.

The reality is that education plays a role in many of the key issues that will decide the 2012 presidential race. How can we put more Americans back to work? Education. How can we lower our long-term debt? Education. How can we continue to secure our homeland? Education. How can we become energy independent? You get the idea.

Education can be the silver bullet if we invest the necessary time and the resources. Unfortunately, both are becoming scarce. As the United States continues to plummet in the global education standings, we can not afford to continue wringing our hands. We need bold, decisive leaders who are not afraid to take risks and have mastered the old maxim of "doing more with less."

We have lots of big questions to answer when it comes to education--questions about the role of the federal government, the length of the school year, the nature of the curriculum, and the integration of technology. The winner of the 2012 presidential election will face these questions and many more. As custodians of the greatest and oldest republic on earth, it's our responsibility to know how each candidate plans to answer them before we step into the voting booth. These are the questions that will define our future.