In order for any substantive education reform to take place in our nation, it must become a more pressing public policy issue in congressional elections.

The crisis in American education has catapulted to the spotlight in recent years.  Or so it seems.  With the release of the critically acclaimed Waiting for Superman and education interest groups taking a more principled and seemingly more powerful stance on education reform, the issue of whether America’s education system is failing has become very prominent.  But education reform, critics contend, has been a pressing issue that has merited a place high on the public policy agenda for years, if not longer.

Ronald Reagan’s famous 1983 educational policy report, “A Nation At Risk,” details the impending crisis in American education with extraordinary foresight.  In response to the challenges presented by the American public school system, which seems to be failing so many, public policy experts and political candidates have rehashed the charter school debate again and again.  The general, politically practical, bipartisan consensus seems to be that charter schools are pragmatic and have the potential to be effective in bridging the education gap, if implemented properly in certain areas.  Former DC schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee supported charter schools in Washington; St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay supports charter schools in St. Louis, Missouri; NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports charter schools in the Big Apple.

In fact, the issue of education reform has even brought the two major parties together on some issues.  Bipartisanship in American politics leading up to the 2010 midterms?  Impossible, you might say.  Political critics, though, are acclaiming the example of bipartisanship in reforming the New Jersey education system as a demonstration of why this is increasingly becoming a possibility.  Commentators who are quick to jump to the idealistic praising of bipartisanship and who herald this as the beginning of a new era of bipartisanship are advised to restrain themselves, though; with the federal government’s recent subsidies of higher education and the massive health care overhaul, states with Republican administrations (such as Louisiana’s, led by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal) that disagree with these recent Obama Administration reforms are taking their own path to even things out.

As President Obama pointed out several weeks ago, throwing more money at resolving the comparative lag in our nation’s education system won’t create many efficient solutions.  Even if it would, the political capital required for such money-throwing simply doesn’t exist in Congress today, given public sentiment against Congress and the President.  No, in order for any substantive education reform to take place in the United States, the issue of American education simply must become a more pressing public policy issue in congressional elections.

Citizens must realize that the perpetuation of American exceptionalism is only possible if the foundations for future American supremacy and global intellectual hegemony are laid today.  For this to happen, national candidates have to make the issue of fixing our fundamentally flawed educational system more appealing to their constituencies.  In the 2008 presidential and congressional elections, billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and Eli Broad pumped millions of dollars into the famous Ed in ’08 campaign, hoping to make educational reform an issue in the elections.  In 2010, there simply hasn’t been any parallel effort, though – with the recession, economic issues overshadow any thought of education reform.  Our President and congressional Democrats would rather use political capital passing their long-awaited health care reforms, since the effects of those reforms are more immediate and thus more politically pragmatic.  As the voices of leadership across our nation, candidates must instead strive to make the future of American education a topic of discourse in congressional races.

The issue of education reform in the United States will never provide instant gratification.  We’ll have to wait years, probably decades, and maybe a generation before the results of today’s efforts are seen.  As a nation, though, if we don’t thoroughly re-evaluate our public policy priorities and ask ourselves whether we want to ensure America’s global position of power for generations to come, the Millennial generation is going to face some serious problems.

Photo credit: Center for Research on Globalization

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