WASHINGTON — An education-advocacy group will begin airing ads this week seeking to nudge Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama on ways to improve the standing of U.S. schools compared with other industrialized nations.

Strong American Schools, a nonpartisan group supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, wants the presidential candidates to focus on the condition of U.S. education at a time that the economy and gas prices are attracting the most public attention.

The $5 million in television, radio, print and online ads in seven states begin Monday. They feature a boy who hoists a line of international flags up a flagpole with the stars and stripes at the bottom.

"If jobs move to countries like Finland and South Korea," the narrator says, "our children's opportunities dry up and so does our economy."

The ads will air in Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Ads will also run in Minnesota closer to the Republican convention.

"This campaign is trying to stoke interest and create intensity in key battleground states," said Marc Lampkin, executive director of the advocacy group Strong American Schools. "What we want people to do is realize that American schools, both individually and collectively, are failing to provide our children with the skills they need to be successful."

Many other industrial nations have more stringent education standards than those in the U.S. On some recent international tests, U.S. students have posted flat scores and landed in the middle to bottom of the pack when compared with other nation's children.

McCain supports changes but not a scrapping of President Bush's signature No Child Left Behind education law. It was enacted in 2002 with the stated goal of getting all students reading and doing math at their proper grade levels by 2013-2014. Schools must test kids in those subjects and face consequences such as replacing staff for scores that fall short of state goals.

Obama is calling for increasing the roughly $23 billion the federal government now spends to implement the law. Much of that goes toward educating poor children.