U.S. Presidential Debates and Education

The first of the three presidential debates happens tonight, from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. ET on major networks, news channels, and streamed lived on YouTube.

Tonight, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will engage each other for the first presidential debate for 90 minutes in which a range of issues will be discussed. An issue that is not likely to be discussed, if the 2008 debates are any indication, is education. In 2008, education policy was tackled as the last question asked of the last debate.

Even though 61% of voters rate education as very important according to a recent Rasmussen survey, the issues of the economy, women’s health, and Iran are more likely to take center-stage. According to poll of registered voters done by CBC News/New York Times this past September, the economy and employment ranks 26% higher than any other issue in deciding on which candidate to vote for.

What seems to be missed here, though, is the critical connection between education and the economy. A 2010 study by the Alliance for Excellent Education illustrated the negative economic consequences of the high school dropout rate (7.4% in 2010). The study found that just by cutting the dropout rate in half would generate $5.3 billion in economic growth.

In the backdrop of tonight’s debate, the reality of the American education system is disconcerting. The U.S. has fallen from 1st to 12th place internationally in the percentage of young adults with postsecondary degrees. The U.S. high school graduation rate stands at 77%, compared to Germany, Japan and Great Britain’s, which stand at 97%, 93%, and 91% respectively. In 2009, the Programme for International Student Assessment ranked the U.S. 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math out of 34 countries assessed.

Despite all of this, the last election failed to make education a central focus of domestic policy issues. UClass hopes that this election sees a shift from just discussing ways to quickly turn around the unemployment rate, which is very important, to determining how to boost our educational systems to ensure long-term economic growth and global competitiveness.

What do you think?

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