Education has gotten short shrift in this year's presidential campaigns, with nearly all the attention focused on competing tax plans and proposals for creating jobs.
Those issues are certainly important. But I've always been one to believe the American people actually can hold two or more thoughts in their head at the same time and not suffer any ill effects from it. So if you're one who believes jobs and the economy are the most important issues, but you'd still like to know more about what each candidate has in store for public schools, this is for you.
First, for a quick summary, check out the Education Week Campaign 2012 website. Ed Week is kind of an industry paper, so its articles can get a little wonkish at times, but this page is very well written and should be useful even for ordinary voters.
Second, it's really important to understand how quickly and directly a lot of federal policy filters down to the local classroom. This stuff really matters.
For example, the Journal-World recently reported how Lawrence teachers are now being trained for teaching an overhauled curriculum in reading and math. Although the Common Core State Standards were initiated by governors and state education chiefs, President Barack Obama gave them a big push when he built in requirements for tougher, "college and career readiness" standards as conditions for receiving certain federal grants and waivers from No Child Left Behind.
Those standards will start showing up in your kids' homework assignments in 2014. And they'll be reflected in your kids' test scores when they take the state assessments in the spring of 2015.
Also, around the same time, teachers and principals in Lawrence and throughout Kansas will undergo a different kind of yearly evaluation. For the first time, part of their evaluation will be based on how well their students perform on those standardized reading and math tests - tests that will be tied to those Common Core standards.
Once again, that's largely the result of those same two federal programs pushed by the Obama administration.
Republican Mitt Romney pushed for very similar policies when he was governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. In his presidential campaign, he has advocated for a kind of federal voucher program, allowing parents to take their kids' share of Title I funding and special education money to any public, private or religious school they choose.
Title I is a program that provides supplemental support to students in high-poverty schools. There are six elementary schools in Lawrence that qualify for Title I funding: Hillcrest; Kennedy; New York; Pinckney; Schwegler; and Woodlawn.
So conceivably, people with students in those districts, as well as people with students who receive federally-funded special education anywhere in Lawrence, would be have more flexibility under the Romney plan to use a share of that money to send their child to a private or parochial school.
By the same token, those six Lawrence schools would get proportionately less federal money to serve the students who remain there.
For additional information about education issues in the election, here are some other useful sites:
ProCon.org - an independent, non-profit organization that has an easy-to-read spreadsheet summarizing positions on education and other issues: http://2012election.procon.org/view.source-summary-chart.php
Webcast debate - A presidential surrogate debate was held Oct. 15 at Columbia University's Teachers College, with education advisers from both campaigns taking questions. For the Obama campaign it was John Schnur, co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools. Extremely civil and intelligent debate with two highly respected experts in the field. For Romney, it was Phil Handy, former chairman of the Florida State Board of Education. (Handy's bright orange socks are a bit distracting, but you get used to it after a while.) I watched most of this when it was carried live, but the video is still available. You may need to sign up for a free account to get access: http://www.edweek.org/ew/collections/election2012/debate_on_education.html
Heritage Foundation - A conservative think tank. Their education page has links to many articles about candidate positions on issues important to conservatives: http://www.heritage.org/issues/education
Brookings Institution - A centrist think tank with lots of resources about policies and issues in education: http://www.brookings.edu/research/topics/education