As the 2008 presidential race heats up, school stakeholders are anxious to hear the candidates’ views on public education. For major education and ed-tech advocacy groups, the topic is about more than just a political agenda; it could well determine the success of the United States in the new global economy.

To emphasize the importance of education to the nation’s future and to drive home how much schools need to change in order to educate the children of tomorrow, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), and the National Education Association (NEA) have teamed up to develop a public service announcement (PSA) campaign aimed at the presidential candidates.

The campaign calls on the next president to respond to the groups’ vision for a 21st-century learning environment, says Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive.

"We hope it will draw the attention of the presidential candidates and become something discussed and debated on the campaign trail, leading to major educational technology initiatives in the next administration. We also hope that the PSA will raise the profile of this issue in the minds of voters," Krueger said.

Although both Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain–the presumptive Democratic and Republican candidates for president–mention education on their web sites, and though their representatives have outlined some plans of action concerning No Child Left Behind and teacher salaries (see "McCain, Obama reps discuss education"), education certainly has not been a notable buzzword during the campaign … so far.

With only 7 percent of U.S. college students currently majoring in math or science fields, and with education at the bottom of all industries that use technology, educational technology and the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education must be among the major subjects discussed during the 2008 presidential campaign season, according to CoSN and the other groups.

The PSA starts out by reminding the future president that, thanks to the sound investments made in STEM education in the ’60s, Americans walked on the moon, helping the nation win the coveted space race.

"Today, nearly 40 years after this historic accomplishment, we’re facing new challenges–including a flattening global economy and climate change," the ad reads. "Now, more than ever, we must engage and train the next generation of scientists and innovators to address these 21st-century problems and opportunities. Student access to school technology, robust teacher technology preparation, and a renewed focus on 21st-century skills are as critical to this mission as they were to the Apollo astronauts."

This appeal to the presidential candidates comes shortly after another PSA, launched by CoSN and the Pearson Foundation, called on educators to develop contemporary classroom practices that incorporate technology to individualize and maximize student learning.

Krueger said the presidential PSA would help build momentum for making access to educational technology a national public policy priority. "It is just one of the many tools that we will use in our efforts," he said.

He added that the PSA is a great way to spread this message, especially if it is spread virally and beyond local communities into mainstream conversation.

"We know that we cannot reach out ultimate goal of a thoroughly modern classroom relying solely on state and local initiatives and without federal leadership and support," Krueger explained. "The current administration has had limited interest in technology in the classroom and has stalled efforts to modernize teaching and learning. Through this PSA campaign, we hope to show the next administration that educational technology is central to improving the nation’s economy and spur a reinvigoration of the federal government’s investments in education technology."

Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of SETDA, said public education can improve only with a concerted effort by the next president and Congress. Besides participating in the PSA campaign, Wolf recently had the opportunity to testify before the House Committee on Education and Labor regarding the National Math Panel recommendations.

At the hearing, Wolf discussed the importance of educational technology to increasing students’ engagement and achievement and pinpointing their strengths and weaknesses early and often through the use of formative assessment.

According to Wolf, committee Chairman Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., "strongly stated his frustration with the lack of use of technology in classrooms" and indicated that he would invite her back for a hearing focused on the potential of technology in the systemic reform of education.

Links:

Consortium for School Networking

State Educational Technology Directors Association

International Society for Technology in Education

National Education Association