Last night at the Presidential debates Obama described education as our top economic issue. All politicians say education is a top priority, but I've never heard Obama refer to it as the top economic issue. This is interesting because my recent poll of 500 economists listed education as the top economic issue, and I think that surprised a lot of people. We know that Obama is heavily influenced by data, and it's a certainty that members of his campaign saw the results of the survey. Did it have any impact on his message about education?

In my September 17th post about my survey of economists, I said, "We know that kids do best in school when their parents are managing the process right. If either candidate had a plan for educating parents on how to help their kids succeed in school, I think that would be compelling." In Obama's exchange about education he made a point of emphasizing the role of parents in improving the performance of their kids in school. I don't recall hearing that before. And as obvious as that might seem, McCain didn't mention it in his remarks about fixing education.

Obama's comments stopped short of where I think the government needs to be in terms of teaching parents how to coach their kids to be good students. I think parenting is a skill that can be taught, especially in regard to education. Most of the countries that kick the United States' butt in student academic performance spend less per student. That suggests that the biggest point of leverage is at home. And it passes the sniff test, because the top students in any class generally have parents that are actively steering the ship.

Do you think the Dilbert survey of Economists had any impact on Obama's message about education? Or is it just a coincidence?
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Oct 16, 2008
Since he is nothing but an empty suit, it is no doubt jhe borrowed it from your survey. He hasn't had an original idea in his life.
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Oct 16, 2008
Well, you could always ask him/his campaign people directly if he's seen it... ;^)
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Oct 16, 2008
You betcha they were looking at the survey! Education is a critically valid economic talking point that needs to be addressed, however, the argument is a bit flawed. The premise that parents and kids want to be educated in the US is simply not true and this is the discussion that needs to be brought forward. We need to best utilize our deep educational resources and demand the most out of them and until the majority of parents and students make this demand, our countries "entitlement" mentality will continue without measurable success. Our culture of making an education merely available and not pursued with passion by our citizens is why we see such a chasm between developing countries (this is the only way out) and our own in success rates.

I sure hope this discussion continues and the rhetoric doesn't end November 4th.
Oct 16, 2008
He also said that alternative energy was our top economic issue earlier in the debate. You only get to pick one "top issue".

Reference: check the debate transcript for Obama's response to the energy question: "And this is the most important issue that our future economy is going to face."
Oct 16, 2008
I love your blog (well the substance; god it's slow and clunky) and your survey was great. However, even a cursory review of the education literature will reveal that the home environment is by far the most important factor in predicting student achievement. Sometimes government inputs (class size, teacher quality, etc) can make a small difference to marginal students, but for the most part kid with good parents learn more and that's about all there is to it.

So I think Obama's campaign was pretty much just spouting common wisdom. The same common wisdom that your economists were tapping into when they answered your survey.

The real issue is your comment "I think parenting is a skill that can be taught, especially in regard to education." I think that is very debatable. Are you going to use the same poor methods to teach parents as we are using to teach kids now? It's an infinite regression. You can't just fiat a solution through "teaching something" is the problem is the educational system.

[By that wisdom, we shouldn't teach kids to read because teaching doesn't work. -- Scott]
Oct 16, 2008
I'm not sure that he's ever couched eduction as an economic policy with such a fine point on it, but I know he's definitely said, almost verbatim, what he said about parents last night--something along the lines of "We have to get parents involved again. They need to turn off the TV, turn off the video games, and engage their children in learning. It's their responsibility." I think it was during his DNC acceptance speech.
Oct 16, 2008
Why not? Could well be.
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 16, 2008
Geez Scott, do you think there are some things that aren't influenced by you're blog? It's great you're contributing to the discussion, and I thought the economic study was great, but trying to take credit for every remotely related point seems petty, undignified and without merit.
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Oct 16, 2008
I think it was a coincidence. But since you're so actively seeking it, I'll say it to you. You matter Scott, and although I don't think you will ever shape or change the direction of a presidential race, you make people smile on a daily basis. Be happy with that, not many people can make that claim.
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