Politics and Education

Article excerpt

Perhaps the most ringing moment in President Clinton's State of the Union Message Tuesday came with his call for a bipartisan commitment to improve education. Making an analogy to a unified foreign policy during the cold war, he exhorted his listeners, "Politics must stop at the classroom door."

Those words were aimed specifically at the members of Congress present. But they also were intended to occupy a niche in the wider national consciousness. A popular consensus on education could impel legislative consent to the president's extensive education plans.

Rhetorically, it worked. Will it work practically? Education is, in fact, a highly political subject. And its politics are much more complex than any philosophical or partisan divide within Congress. Educational questions rouse debate in the principal's office, the school board room, the state house. As Mr. Clinton well knows, a president, or a Congress, can only do so much to quell the contention and foster unified action. But we applaud the president's renewed effort to exert some national leadership. The country's long engagement with school reform has yet to yield the kind of results most Americans hope for. Overall, student performance still lags in such crucial areas as math and reading. …