’VOTES’ Students Sharply Divided on Iran and Energy Policy, Find Common Ground on Money in Politics – And First Two Debates

SONOMA, Calif. and NORTHFIELD, Mass. (October 29, 2012) – Just like the candidates battling for the White House, some of the nation’s best and brightest secondary students hold sharply opposing views on a number of the most contentious issues in this year’s campaign.

Especially if those issues have to do with energy.

That’s one of the key findings of a new series of Blast polls in this year’s national VOTES Project (Voting Opportunities for Teenagers in Every State), an initiative spearheaded by Northfield Mount Hermon (NMH), a prestigious private school in Massachusetts, and StudySync (www.studysync.com), the web-based Common Core curriculum from BookheadEd Learning, LLC.

The only program of its kind in the country, the VOTES Project brings together more than 100 public and private schools nationwide, as well as schools internationally, to give students a voice in the 2012 election. The most recent VOTES Project Blast polls, conducted throughout October, asked students to weigh in on hot topics in domestic and foreign policy. Blasts are short reading and writing assignments, using StudySync technology, that address timely, high-interest topics of cultural significance.

In perhaps the thorniest question of the campaign season, students were asked the best approach to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons technology. A majority – 56.5 percent – expressed support for “position(ing) American military equipment and personnel in the region to demonstrate a willingness to strike if Iran does not cease its nuclear weapons program,” while 43.5 percent agreed that the U.S. should “continue to apply sanctions through the United Nations and follow the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

Some 637 students nationwide responded to the first question, generating 5,827 peer reviews – that is, student comments and feedback from within the VOTES Project/StudySync community. The most popular post came from this high school student in Northfield, Mass.: “The U.S. should observe what Iran is doing, and apply these sanctions, but also be ready to enforce these sanctions with a line in the sand.” And a middle school student in Kaysville, Utah, offered this: “I do not think that we should threaten them with military, because if they do have weapons it could make them feel inclined to use them.”

Students were even more divided on the matter of the Keystone Pipeline and U.S. energy policy overall. By the narrowest of margins – 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent – VOTES students endorsed construction of the Keystone Pipeline across the U.S. midsection.

On the Keystone question, 498 students responded, generating 4,396 peer review comments. Among those posts was this from a Northfield, Mass. high schooler: “More oil creates jobs, but it is bad for the environment. Renewable energy also creates jobs. Consider factors that will affect the future.” A middle school student was even more emphatic: “We should go completely green, thereby reducing pollution and global warming, while helping the economy. It’s win-win!”

Taking On the Campaign Itself
If students split on matters of oil and nukes, they were united – largely in opposition – to the Citizens United court ruling and the expansive role of money in politics. When asked, “Should corporations, unions, and Super PACs be permitted to spend as much money as they want to support or oppose political candidates?” nearly three quarters of the 684 students polled – 73.4 percent – said no. Among the 5,349 peer review comments, this one, from a high school student in Brenham, Texas, was rated highest: “Not everyone has the same buying power, so each political party should be given the same amount of money to use. It’s only fair.” And a student in Hoover, Alabama, posted this: “I think it is outrageous. I get it, the rich endorse the politicians so they kind of owe them, but the less fortunate still need a voice.”

Student opinion of the first two presidential debates was in sync with the conventional wisdom and the verdict of most of the mainstream media, with 67.5 percent giving the October 3 debate to Mitt Romney and 61.5 percent judging President Obama the winner of the October 16 encounter.
Of the first debate, a Northfield high school student offered this: “President Obama did not articulate his words well enough to convince the opposing sides. Mitt Romney gave a very good argument.” And in response to the second face-off, a student in Kaysville, Utah, observed: “You never know what promises either of the candidates will keep. What things are promised has a huge pull on what your opinions are.”

“From both the raw numbers and the insightful commentary, today’s secondary school students are every bit as engaged in Campaign 2012 as their elders,” said Jim Shea, NMH history teacher and VOTES co-founder. “As the VOTES Project progresses this season, we continue to be impressed by the level of understanding among students across the country — and by their eagerness to share their opinions on the issues and the electoral process itself.”

“Educators strive to engage students with topics relevant to their lives,” said Robert Romano, founder and CEO, BookheadEd Learning. “StudySync’s Blasts provide an immediate connection by delivering current events in a meaningful and interactive way. We’re especially pleased with the response the Blast polls have provided with the VOTES Project in classrooms across the nation, giving students the opportunity to participate in this important national conversation.”
NMH created VOTES 1988 and has run the program for all six presidential elections since then. In 2008, 60,000 students from every state in the nation cast ballots of their own and sent them to Northfield Mount Hermon a week before Election Day. For the 2012 race, the polls will wrap up just prior to Election Day, when students will select one of the two candidates.

In addition to counting the popular vote, NMH’s mock election simulates the Electoral College process. According to NMH, teen voters have correctly predicted the results of the national presidential election in every race since 1988, with the exception of the 2004 contest. Turnout in participating schools approaches 80 percent — twice the average turnout in national elections. The project teaches students about the democratic process, tests their political savvy, and reveals the age group’s political leanings through an issues poll.

An innovative, web‐delivered academic tool, StudySync was created by leading national educators with the goal of inspiring higher levels of critical thinking and academic collaboration. Aligned to the Common Core State Standards, StudySync targets middle and high school students, enlisting broadcast-quality video, digital media, mobile platforms and social learning to advance students’ reading, writing and critical thinking abilities.

Flexible and easy‐to‐navigate, StudySync places control fully in the hands of the educator, enabling teachers to integrate the product into their current classroom curriculum any way they see fit. StudySync is also intended to be used across disciplines – for language arts classrooms and for science, social studies, history and other subject areas as well.

About BookheadEd Learning, LLC
BookheadEd Learning connects high school and middle school students to the great ideas of mankind through technology, multimedia, and a rich library of classic and modern texts. StudySync, its award-winning flagship product, uses web-delivered educational tools – including broadcast-quality video, digital media, mobile platforms and social networking —to help teachers inspire higher levels of students’ reading, writing, critical thinking, academic discourse and peer-to-peer collaboration. An AEC and SIIA CODiE Awards finalist, StudySync is the recipient of two BESSIE Awards and the EDDIE Award from ComputED Gazette, “Trendsetter” recognition from EdTech Digest, District Administration’s “Readers’ Choice Top 100 Products” award, and inclusion on Edudemic’s list of the Top 50 edtech tools. CEO/co-founder Robert Romano is among EdTech Digest’s “50 Fascinating Entrepreneurs.” Based in Sonoma, Calif. with an office in Cambridge, Mass., BookheadEd is comprised of educators and experts who believe “Together We’re Smarter.” To learn more about BookheadEd Learning and its StudySync educational platform, visit www.studysync.com.

Media contact:
Ken Greenberg
Edge Communications, Inc.

About Northfield Mount Hermon
Northfield Mount Hermon, commonly referred to as NMH, is a co-educational independent boarding school for students in grades 9–12 and postgraduate. The school is located on the banks of the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts near Gill, Massachusetts. NMH was founded in 1879. The school provides, “Education of the head, the heart, and the hand.” Our mission is to engage the intellect, compassion, and talents of our students, empowering them to act with humanity and purpose. The school enrolls 650 students who come from more than 45 states and 35 countries. NMH is a member of the Eight Schools Association, which comprises Phillips Academy (known as Andover), Phillips Exeter Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall, Deerfield Academy, Hotchkiss School, Lawrenceville School, and St. Paul’s School.

Media contact:
Cheri Cross
Director of Communications
Northfield Mount Hermon