In his speech on public education in America, the President made many grand statements, but offered few solutions. It’s good that the President is taking up the issue of public education. Public education is the single most important issue in this country. It affects every aspect of our lives. It drastically affects our economy. The United States will be better off it our workforce is more educated.
In his speech at Kenmore Middle School, the President stressed that it all begins at home. Instilling a desire for education and the discipline to obtain is the responsibility of parents. What he didn’t address is how do we help kids who don’t have that. As much as we don’t like it, some parents are not responsible. Some parents will not instill those values in their children. Some children will show up at school tired and hungry. We have to address these children’s problems. One step is providing breakfast at schools in the same way that we provide free and reduced lunches.
The President also stressed his program, “Race to the Top.” This program told states that if they showed progress then the best of them would see federal money. While you can say the program caused states to raise standards, it raises the question, “Is competition the right model for public education?”
This is a very big question. The President called on Congress to send him an education bill that he could sign by the beginning of the next school year. He put the responsiblity on Congress. The reason that the competition question is so important is that Congress is increasingly under Republican influence and they believe competition is the answer to everything. Republican views of education range from promoting school choice and voucher programs to dismantling the Department of Education and saying, “Screw the public, they can educate themselves.” Public education cannot be subject to this idea. The very idea of public education is that it is available to everyone. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity, or socio-economic status is. Every child deserves a certain level of education, and the government should give it to them. Competition doesn’t work because in a competition someone always loses. Right now the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments are taking place. Every team cannot win. That’s not how it works. In public education, however, everyone is supposed to win. We cannot let the free market, competition standard be applied to public education.
The President did mention a number of important points. He repeatedly stressed that education is about abstract skills like critical thinking. He said they were more important that test scores. He stressed that we need to revamp teacher education. We need to give teachers more time to collaborate and more time for veteran teachers to mentor new teachers. Most of all he highlighted the fact that education costs money. He pointed out that reform is necessary but we will also have to spend money. While money is tight, he said we cannot cut education funding. With Republican’s trying to cut spending on everything from the IRS to Pell grants, this is an important statement, however, the President did not threaten to veto a bill containing cuts to education.
President Obama’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place. He seems to truly value the idea of educating all children. He said, “In the 21st century it is not enough to make sure that no child gets left behind. We need to make sure every child has a chance to get ahead.” That is the right idea. He said educating every child is important. “That is who we are.” The President has stopped short of leading the way. His speech on Monday had the right goals, but now we must ask if the President has the political will to push for those goals. If the job is left to Congress, we will see the same fight we have seen over the past 50 years. The nation will continue to decline in education, because we refuse to invest in it. President Obama has fought for healthcare, and financial reform. Now is the time for him to fight for education.