Education policy has been one of the major themes in the 2013 Boston mayoral race. The two winners of Tuesday’s primary – State Rep. Martin J. Walsh and Boston City Councilor John R. Connolly — were among the candidates who spoke passionately and often about improving city schools, expanding the school day, and increasing school choice.

Paul Peterson is Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School. We spoke with him about how the mayoral candidates are talking about education.

Q: Why is education playing such a large role in this campaign?

Peterson: Many things are working well in Boston. Municipal finances are in acceptable shape, public safety has improved substantially in recent years, race and ethnic relations are as positive as they have ever been, and Boston’s economy is doing as well as can be expected.

But Boston schools, while performing at higher levels than the schools of New York City, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, are not providing the educational opportunities a multi-ethnic society will need to perform well in the 21st Century. The public is unhappy with school assignment policies that prevent many students from attending their neighborhood schools. The Boston Teachers Union has fought virtually every reform, including performance pay, teacher tenure reform, and the recruitment of teachers through Teach for America (TFA), despite TFA’s ability to attract interest among graduates of universities within the Boston metropolitan area.

Read the full Q&A.