Focusing on Education
I realize that people are heading to the poll as we speak to cast their vote for our nation’s next President. Like everyone else in the United States and even those in other countries, I have paid close attention to what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney said during the recent Presidential Debate – especially around the issue of education.
To my disappointment, the debate barely scratched the surface of this pressing issue. I would argue that while the unemployment rate and the ongoing economic crisis are top of mind, they are not more important than ensuring our nation’s children have access to high-quality education and opportunities to further their academic careers beyond high school. In fact, education should be viewed as a vehicle to help dig ourselves out of the economic pitfall we have found ourselves in. It’s also vital to keeping our nation safe and strong with a population that is qualified to join the U.S. military after graduation.
In the groundbreaking 1983 Nation at Risk report1, we were told that our country’s education system was “being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.” It went on to add that that we have begun accepting a level of educational performance that we would find alarming if it was occurring in any other country.
Since 1983, we have failed to move the needle in improving youth education. Our SAT reading scores have fallen to their lowest level since 19722. Recent ACT test results have revealed that three quarters of our graduating high school seniors fail to meet college readiness standards1. Statistics on the Nation’s Report Card website3 further paint a grim picture:
- One-third of 4th graders score “below basic” in reading
- Nearly 20 percent of 4th graders score “below basic” in math
- More than one quarter of 12th graders score “below basic” in reading
- 35 percent-plus 12th graders score “below basic” in math
Finally, we have our high school dropout rate. According to an article in the Washington Post4, while some states have reported decreasing high school drop-out rates, they are still on the rise in others. On average, nearly 25 percent of our nation’s high school students do not make it to graduation. The income disparity between high school graduates and drop-outs is staggering: people who receive a high school diploma earn $130,000 more over their lifetimes compared with peers who drop out early, according to the article. This translates into better job opportunities for graduates, improved communities and a more economically stable country overall.
Education: Our Ticket to a Brighter Future
While the main theme of the election has been about the economy, the Presidential candidates need to focus more on the state of our education system, our children’s future and the impact that can be realized by forming education and community collaborations, such as with the many collective impact initiatives beginning to form across the country. Are these issues not directly related to the economy—especially if economic prosperity is a major part of turning around increasing deficits and high unemployment rates?
The President and any presidential candidate can and should use his platform to highlight the problems we face in education and what various communities and districts are doing to address them. We cannot talk about national security or the economy and neglect education, which drives and defines military staffing, readiness and preparedness, as well as economic innovation, employment and growth.
Bottom-Line: Things Must Improve
If we are going to continue to achieve greatness, we have to do a much better job of engaging the national dialogue on education. We also need to start thinking about ways to reverse the current trend. One option may be through collective impact initiatives, in which multiple community organizations and nonprofits align in an effort to tackle large-scale, imminent social problems.Another option may be through focusing on afterschool programs that reinforce lessons learned in the classroom and provide mentorship that encourage students to find post-secondary opportunities.
Both candidates have said that they are committed to improving education, but neither has given the topic top priority in their political platform. It cannot be overstated how important the role education plays in shaping the long-term success of their plans, no matter which candidate wins. In this final week, it is my hope that both candidates will address this importance, as well as detail their plans for turning around the negative trends that students are facing.
Over the course of this blog, I hope to help engage a conversation and highlight the people and communities that are doing this important work, as well as other issues and challenges that are putting our great nation at risk.
Until my next post,
- “Nation At Risk,” The National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983.
- “SAT Scores Fall as More Students Take Exam,” The Wall Street Journal, September 24, 2012.
- Nation’s Report Card: http://nationsreportcard.gov
- High School Graduation Rate Rises in U.S.,” Washington Post, March 18, 2012.