Every four years, the presidential election campaign unfolds, and the position of the candidates on education is predictable: They are in favor of it.

Something else is easy to predict: In every presidential campaign, hot-button issues — some important and some infuriatingly not — suck up most of the oxygen, and the hoped-for focus on education withers and dies.

In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain and Democratic nominee Barack Obama have laid out their positions for improving America's education system; but with the nation at war, fuel prices climbing and financial institutions collapsing, subjects such as early-childhood education or charter schools don't seem as urgent.

That hasn't stopped education advocates from working to bring greater attention to what they see as the critical need to improve the U.S. education system (see sidebar, p. 20). But it's unlikely that the education platforms of either major candidate will be a deciding factor in November balloting.

Still, it's important for school and university administrators to be aware of how Obama and McCain view the education system and how they hope to improve it. Before President George W. Bush led the push for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the generalization had been that Democrats favor more federal involvement in education and Republicans back a more hands-off approach. Now that the NCLB reform law has fallen into disfavor among many educators and politicians (see sidebar at end), the proposals of this year's presidential candidates reflect the previous party orthodoxy. McCain's education platform contains few specific proposals and more statement of philosophy, specifically about giving parents more choices; Obama's campaign proposes more programs and explains them in more detail.