Countdown to the Election: Bush-Gore on Education

By Cheryl K. Chumley | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Republican George W. Bush has beaten Democrat Al Gore on the education issue, one political analyst citing various survey and research findings said, but the vice president's campaign workers vehemently denied the claim.

"That statement is ludicrous," Gore spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said. "Bush supports vouchers, and every public poll you see shows vouchers are unpopular."

Pfeiffer and other campaign officials also claimed Gore's education policies were on track with the goals of voters, and congressional and White House administration records show he has maintained a focus on improvements.

Six years ago, for example, Gore reportedly supported Goals 2000 legislation that established national educational requirements for all students and schools. He sponsored the 1991 National High-Performance Computing Act to develop a network to link students, teachers, and researchers and supported measures in 1999 to build and modernize 6,000 schools nationwide.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Gore also "opposed an educational voucher proposal that would have undermined public education," according to campaign officials.

"Gore will continue to talk about education, and why he opposes Bush's voucher plan," Pfeiffer said.

Bush's support for school vouchers, however, may resonate with a certain percentage of voters. Nina Rees, senior education policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation, said a recent Joint Committee for Political and Economic Studies poll indicated "57 percent [of blacks] are for school choice."

David Almasi, the director of Project 21 - an organization within The National Center for Public Policy Research that seeks to promote the views of blacks - echoed the findings of that poll in August when he touted the voucher plan as a "good vital solution" to the current educational system problems.

"I think it's too late for Gore" to recoup constituent support based on his education plans, Rees continued. "Bush has distinguished himself ... and done something that no other Republican has done."

Bush is not only addressing the issue of education on a frequent basis, she said, but also appears "comfortable" speaking about his related record in Texas and plans for the nation. Gore, by contrast, has seemingly taken for granted the constituent support his party has historically received on education issues, and in doing so, presented a non-caring attitude, Rees said.

"Bush never shied away from the issue of education, even before the primaries," Rees said. "One of the keys to show voters you care about the issues is to talk about them comfortably ... and he does.

"Gore, on the other hand," she continued, "didn't visit as many schools. He felt so confident on the education issue that [he and his campaign workers] didn't pay attention to what Bush was doing."

Even such efforts by the Gore campaign to quote unfavorable statistics and studies pointing to Bush's alleged inadequacies with the education issue in Texas have proven futile in swaying voters' views, Rees said, because those opinions give the perception that Democrats are desperate.

A Rand Corp. study released last week and utilized by the Gore campaign to criticize Bush's Texas record, for instance, suggested that education gains reported in that state may only reflect higher test scores, earned when teachers pressed students to cram for the exams, rather than actual learning.

"What the study shows is everything Bush has been saying about his achievements in Texas is really a myth," Pfeiffer said.

An earlier Rand report, however, had indicated that Texas led the nation in many areas of educational improvements and Gore's attempts to prove otherwise "didn't help" the Democratic cause, Rees said.

"A view of a lot of the folks on the left is that the Texas record is one we should be proud of," she said, explaining why efforts to belittle Bush's education policies have largely failed. "I've sensed that this is something [Democrats] are doing as a last resort. The fact is, the Democrats didn't think this was an issue they should be fighting for."

Zogby International September survey results released earlier this month indicated respondents favored Bush on four key education issues, and Gore, on three.

The American Values Poll asked participants of different ages, educational levels, regional demography, religion, political party affiliation, ethnicity, work status, gender, ideology, and labor union status if they supported Bush or Gore in seven school-related areas.

In the "totals" column, Bush won constituent favor for his views on academic standards, funding, student testing, and alternative teacher certification programs.

The majority of survey respondents preferred Gore's refusal to consider vouchers, except for white participants, who favored Bush's school choice plan. A majority also agreed with Gore's ideas for Head Start and his focus on teaching social skills rather than just reading and writing.

Gore also scored well in the area of charter schools, according to Zogby, which reported 54 percent of the respondents favored his plan; 37 percent, Bush.

"Gore's plan is pretty much ... no different from what Democrats have offered at the federal level, except with a few more bells and whistles," Rees said. "Bush's is the superior plan ... [and] focuses on streamlining the federal program, consolidating existing programs, and boosting academic standards."

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