When Governors Talk Education, It's About the Economy, Stupid


Most governors are fond of talking about education—why it needs to be improved, how they're going to improve it, the consequences of not improving it, and so on.

But when governors attempt to use the bully pulpit to sell their ideas about education to the public, what are their favored rhetorical themes? A new analysis examines that question, and finds that governors overwhelmingly choose to frame education as important for economic reasons, rather than for the development of individual abilities, or as a matter of civic responsibility. And that political strategy has implications for society and its schools, the researchers say.

The analysis, published in the International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, is based on a detailed review of governors' "state of the state" addresses between 2001 and 2008. Why focus on those speeches? Because they're the most widely reported examples of gubernatorial rhetoric, and, the record shows, they typically provide an accurate roadmap of where governors' policies are headed, according to the authors.
Over the time period studied, the authors found that governors defined the importance of education in economic terms much more often—62 percent of the time—than they did in other ways.

Governors touched on the importance of education for self-realization only 27 percent of the time. And they connected education to civic responsibility just 7 percent of the time.