Do you have a bill in Congress that you support?
No. Strong American Schools will not take a position on any specific piece of federal legislation.
Does Strong American Schools generally favor Democrats or Republicans?
We do not favor one party over another or one candidate over another.
We believe that every single candidate needs to address America’s education challenge with creative solutions and strong presidential leadership. Our goal is to build a drumbeat of support for vigorous action after the election, no matter who becomes president
Don’t you think early childhood education is more important?
Early childhood programs are important, but so is K-12 education. Research shows that students who attend good early childhood programs but end up in low-quality elementary schools fall behind anyway.
We shouldn’t have to choose between offering early childhood programs and giving students great elementary, middle, and high schools. It’s not an either-or proposition.
How did you choose those three policy priorities?
These three issues are basic to educational progress. Standards: We need to clearly set expectations for learning before we can rationally organize resources, teachers, time, and support to get the job done. Effective teachers: After we set our goals, effective teaching is the most powerful force to help a student learn. It is not the only influence, but it is the most powerful. Time and support: Adequate time for learning and support for students is necessary to enable all students to reach the standards.
There are other issues. They also will be debated and discussed. But our focus is on these three basic elements because they are fundamental for improving schools and underlie all other educational programs and practices.
How do you intend to influence the candidates?
During the campaign we will educate and engage presidential candidates. We will use the full range of modern campaign tactics to increase the attention paid to education, including targeted field and grassroots efforts, a cutting-edge E-campaign, micro-targeting, and a national paid advertising strategy, all reinforcing the importance of education to America's future. We recognize that there are many important issues that candidates must address, but we will work to make sure that education is one of them.
I agree with some of your issues, but not all of them. Can I still be a part of this effort?
Yes. Our intention is to encourage a vigorous national debate on these issues so that the best solutions come to the surface. We are not trying to prescribe one narrow policy solution on any of these issues. We need your point of view.
I’m for/against vouchers. Where do you stand on vouchers?
We do not take any official stand on vouchers—either for or against.
We know there is a vigorous debate about vouchers—just as there are debates about many issues. And we hope that these debates will continue. This campaign cannot address all issues affecting education in our country. Rather than addressing every issue, we are focusing on three primary issues that should not get left out of the debate during the 2008 presidential election or in the future.
If a candidate endorses you or endorses your ideas, does that mean you support him or her?
No. We are calling on all candidates to tell voters how they intend to improve education. Due to tax and election laws, we cannot support or oppose any specific candidate or political party.
If I think another issue is more important than these three issues, should I still sign on?
Yes. We know these three issues are not the only educational issues of importance to many Americans. Other issues will undoubtedly be debated, and we encourage that. We also recognize that every voter will -- and should -- make his or her choice of who to vote for based on a wide variety of issues. While we believe education is a central issue in determining our country's future, we know it is not the only one.
But we want to make sure that these three issues are on the table and part of the debate over the course of the 2008 election and the legislative cycles and elections to follow.
Is Bill Gates really involved?
Yes. Bill and Melinda Gates and Eli and Edythe Broad have a longstanding commitment to improving education and are very personally invested in this project. They believe it is critical for this nation to accelerate its commitment to educational improvement, and the time to begin is during this presidential election.
Since you are focusing your campaign on a presidential election, do you expect the solutions to require federal mandates?
No. We are focusing on a presidential election because we believe the next president should inspire and lead Americans at all levels—state, national, and local—to work together to improve schools. A presidential election offers a unique opportunity to get the whole country talking about particular issues. Education is primarily a state and local responsibility. But together, states and localities form a nation, and the president is the leader of a nation. This is an American problem that affects us all. There are ways other than mandates that Presidents can affect change. For example, the Teacher Incentive Fund provides support to states and school districts that adopt pay for performance programs.
What are you asking me to sign on to? What will I be supporting?
We are inviting you to participate in a nonpartisan campaign to make education a top priority in the 2008 presidential election.
The campaign will not support or oppose any particular candidate for public office or any political party. Nor does it take positions on legislation.
Instead, the campaign will send a message that education is one of the critical issues for our time and must be addressed during the 2008 election by candidates from all political parties.
What are you trying to accomplish?
First, we want to inform the campaigns and the American people on the hard facts about the status of American education and the creative possibilities for improvement.
Second, we want education to be a top domestic priority of the next administration—no matter who wins the presidency. To accomplish this, we want the all presidential candidates and ultimately the next President of the United States to exhibit strong national leadership on the issue of educational improvement—not just giving a speech or passing federal legislation but issuing a Kennedyesque challenge to the American people to make our schools stronger and better.
Third, we went to see that three fundamental policy areas are addressed: American education standards, providing effective teachers in every classroom, and giving students more time and support for learning.
Where do you stand on the No Child Left Behind Act?
Strong American Schools does not take positions on any specific piece of legislation.
The issues promoted by Strong American Schools need to be part of any discussion that involves education reform—at the local, state, and national levels.
Whatever the Congress decides about No Child Left Behind, America will need strong presidential leadership to focus on the challenge of providing all students with rigorous American education standards, effective teachers, and time and support for learning.
Who is financing this campaign? How much money do you have?
Strong American Schools is financed by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, two of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world. The budget is estimated to be up to $60 million over 18 months.
Who is the audience for this campaign?
We are speaking directly to the presidential candidates and their staff members. But just as important, we are also speaking to every American with a stake in this issue—and that means every American, period. Education is the key to the economic and social health of this country and every community in it.
Why do you think education is such an important issue?
The issues currently being debated on the campaign trail—national security, the environment and health care—share a core underpinning. Each relies on education. Without a highly educated citizenry, our nation’s competitiveness and security will be undermined, and our ability to solve the most complex challenges of the day will be threatened. It’s also a moral issue. All students—no matter their race or income or neighborhood—should have the opportunity to attend a strong American school.
Will you endorse a candidate at some point?
No. Strong American Schools will not endorse or support any candidate from any party.
You talk a lot about 1 million kids dropping out every year. Will those three policy aims improve graduation rates?
Some people believe that students drop out for personal reasons that schools can’t do anything about. But dropouts are much more likely to say they left because they were bored in school or falling behind in their classes than because of family or personal circumstances.
Researchers have shown that some schools have much greater “holding power” than others—particularly those with a more focused, academically challenging curriculum, and more supportive relationships between teachers and students.
And students are less likely to drop out when they enter high school with good math and reading skills. Based on that research, we believe that strengthening schools along these lines will significantly reduce dropout rates.