Education: Back on the Map

The election of Barack Obama as President demonstrates that the American Dream can come true. A U.S. citizen, regardless of ethnicity, can struggle out of the humblest of origins and into prosperity. This vision stands behind the freedoms of this country and legitimizes our liberal capitalist ideals of self-made sovereignty. More and more Americans are cynical about the presence of such a dream. They cite the influx of a ‘working poor’ class in America as proof that the American Dream has failed. These pessimists claim that today’s established wealth and de facto segregation of the rich and poor makes upward mobility improbable. The wealth gap is a problem in America, but solving this dilemma is not impossible. Yet this is not a challenge that will be fixed by government handouts, affirmative action or the destruction of corporatism. Rather, it is only by revamping the decrepit public education system in this country that equal opportunity can be achieved.

The real tragedy of the American public education system in this country is that it has fallen off the map of public policy. There are three main problems with grade-school-level education. Most schools suffer from a lack of well-directed funding. While some schools lack sufficient funds, more money does not necessarily mean better education. The state of New York spends the highest amount per pupil on education out of all 50 states, yet it ranks 45 out of 50 in combined SAT scores. Most of this money is spent paying inflated, union-negotiated salaries to bad teachers, or on technology that both students and teachers do not know how to use. Secondly, the standards of public education in America are exceedingly low. Standardized tests are necessary to ensure that teachers are giving students required knowledge. However, after dramatic decreases in difficulty and passing rate, students in New York now only need a score of 55 percent to pass an absurdly easy Math A Regents Exam. Thirdly, schools in lower income districts suffer from a lack of parental involvement. Parents are either not concerned for the performance of their children, or they do not know how to properly encourage their kids in academic success.

So what are the solutions? No Child Left Behind has not been successful, although the idea of standardized testing should be saved and revised. Throwing money at the problem and labeling it “helping the poor” cannot make real improvements. However, the school voucher program has great potential to improve the quality of American public education. Parents and students are allowed to exercise a choice of where a child attends school, creating competition between schools and monetary incentives to improve the quality of learning. Local and state governments can still provide extra funding to needy schools. The program has been implemented in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, test scores in the Milwaukee Public Schools have not improved since the program’s inception, suggesting the voucher system will not solve the problem by itself.

The most common barrier urban public school teachers face is the lack of parental involvement. The first and highest standards for children are instituted by parents, meaning any shortcomings in the home will restrict a child from reaching his full potential. Therefore, the government must invest money to improve adult education. Citizens should be taught how to be better parents. Mothers and fathers must learn how to facilitate academic excellence by reading to their kids from an early age. They must also learn how to properly reward achievement and discourage delinquency. Organizations not only help parents to teach their children, but they also provide men and women with skills and education about the working world. These lessons allow prospective and current parents to earn more money and provide better resources to their children. Adult education teaches a man to fish and feeds him for life rather than simply giving him a fish and feeding him for a day.

Barack Obama lays out an education plan for his presidency that is just as vague as his message of hope and change. The new president may and should try to improve American education. Education holds the key to the creative and innovative spirits of America. We must only hope that star-struck policymakers will not condemn the schools of the United States to demolition. If the gaps in education remain, we can never truly bridge differences and endow change upon our nation. It is only with equality in education that the American Dream can bring redemption to everyone.