We've spent a lot of time over the past two weeks talking about the Democratic presidential candidates' early education agendas, so today we're going to devote some time to the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain. So far, McCain hasn't said much about education issues, and hasn't offered any sort of education policy agenda. That's hardly surprising, as McCain has never been particularly involved on education issues in the Senate, and education issues were not a major issue in the Republican primary campaign. Richard Whitmire reports that McCain's advisors are about to start unrolling a series of education proposals-but predicts they won't include a significant early education component.
There are lots of good reasons for McCain's advisors to incorporate an early education component in the education agenda they're formulating. For starters, it would be counterintuitive, and it would also help cast a more positive light on some of the areas where McCain is weaker.
Further, it's probably easier for Republican politicians to support innovative ideas on early education than on K-12 reform right now. Conventional wisdom within the pundit class holds that teachers unions make it difficult for Democrats to advance compelling school reform ideas. But the politics of school reform are equally fraught for many Republicans. The conservative base loathes NCLB with a passion to rival that of the most strident teacher unionist and strongly opposes any expansion of the feds' role in schooling. Moderate Republicans know that the suburban parents they represent aren't thrilled by NCLB or reforms that might shake up a status quo that works pretty well for them now. And, as the Sol Stern controversy demonstrates, the conservative constituency for education reform is increasingly divided between choice-niks who think vouchers are the only answer, and devotees of curricular reform. In other words, for a politician who's never evinced a particular passion for education issues, the waters can't look too appealing in K-12 reform.