Education is the key to success in the 21st century. The United States needs to constantly provide opportunities to prepare people for better jobs and better benefits. All levels of government need to invest in education and training — not doing so is not a smart move for the American economy. The country with the best education in the world will win the 21st-century economy – that should be America. The three top education issues in the United States are 1) the need for free community college across the nation, 2) a federally mandated curriculum, 3) access to quality preschools.
We live in a global workforce in an economy that is based on innovation and information – more technical skills are required of students entering the workforce now more than ever before. The chronic problems that the world is facing, such as cancer, global warming, poverty, and homelessness, will take the talents of a highly educated workforce to solve. Furthermore, nations without a highly educated workforce will fall behind in the 21st century. Providing free community college education will jumpstart the economy, be a pipeline for students from lower-income families to achieve higher education, and will pave the way for partnerships with businesses to prepare a better workforce. When U.S. students graduate they are not only competing with students in their hometowns or even in their states – they are competing with people from across the nation and abroad. There is a strong need to have a national standard driving education. Finally, study after study has shown that the earlier a child receives a quality education, the better off that child will be.
The most important thing to note about education public policy is that constitutionally the power rests with the states. Many state constitutions have what is commonly referred to as the “education article” ensuring free public education through the twelfth grade. In San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriquez, the U.S. Supreme Court held that education is not a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. In shaping education public policy the Office of the President and Congress have to be creative in developing public policy. However, in public policy process is the president’s ability to set the agenda remains paramount in shaping the mass public’s focus on this issue.
The last major federal legislation was No Child Left Behind in 2001 during the George W. Bush presidency. No Child Left Behind aimed to shorten the achievement gap between students by requiring states to test students in elementary, middle, and high school in certain key subjects to ensure American students were proficient. Bush used the advantage of time and public policy – pushing the act through Congress in his first year in the presidency. The President has the power of the bully pulpit – an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue. The first 100 days are critical for any presidency; historically approval rates soon after a president takes office are some of the highest the Office of the President sees.
GREATER ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION
The most important public policy in the education policy domain is ensuring every hard working American citizen has access to community college or trade school through offering free community college to every citizen willing to work hard. The role of America’s over 1,000 community colleges will become more important in educating and training those looking for their ticket into the middle class — whether someone is fresh out of high school or older and looking for a better job, veterans, or single parents with limited time community colleges play an integral role in educating the workforce. This is an opportunity to graduate with the skills needed without having a lot of debt. The U.S. economy is driven by knowledge and innovation. A highly skilled workforce is critical in keeping jobs on our shores, and higher education is the key to a smarter America. However, going to college is out of reach for many Americans because they do not want to be saddled with a lifetime of debt. In the next decade, two out of every three job openings will require some form of higher education, and too many families are priced out of the higher education. The world is fasted-pasted, constantly changing, and hyper-connected and more is required to succeed now than ever. The plan is to make a college degree more accessible to more people – enabling more Americans to gain the skills they need to get the jobs they want.
Community college is a great target since they, like high schools, have a 100% acceptance rate, are easily accessible, and have flexible programs — offering classes that are close to home may be the only option for single parents, those in need of remedial classes, or those who can only take classes part-time. Tennessee, Oregon, and Minnesota launched their own statewide plans. Currently, there are no federal programs that incentivize every state in the United States to provide access to community college. In the first fall, the Tennessee Promise program was launched 15,000 students were enrolled in a community college, not one had any debt. By making this nationwide more than 9 million students could benefit from this program each year. Those in the program who transfer into a four-year college will have half of their bachelor’s degree without cost. A degree from a four year will earn you more than one million dollars more than someone with a high school diploma. Others who elect to go into skills training will graduate ready to work without student debt. Furthermore, free community college trains our workforce so that we can compete with anyone in the world. Students would need to earn good grades and be serious about earning a degree – to finish in an appropriate amount of time; to participate in this program students must maintain a 2.5 grade point average (GPA) and be enrolled full time. Increase tax incentives for those willing to work with community colleges and even larger increase for those willing to fund community colleges. Tax credits should be given to businesses who hire on community college graduates within 6 months after graduation. The price of a college education should be free for responsible students –two-year college should be as free and universal as high school is today. In Ohio, Columbus State Community College worked with the bio industry organization BioOhio to develop a curriculum based on the needs of the biotechnology industry. Until this collaboration, Columbus State Community College did not have in biotechnology programs in place. Due to the partnership, Columbus State Community College developed a bioscience program and pathway for biomanufacturing at BioOhio, Abbott Nutrition, Battelle Manufacturing, and GFS Chemicals.
NATIONAL EDUCATION STANDARDS
Two hundred years ago states controlling education was probably a good idea: people stayed relatively in the same place, and those localities knew what would best be taught to benefit those citizens. In the 21st century, people move around the country and the world to work at jobs that did not exist five, ten, or twenty years ago. Getting a good education should not depend on where a person lives. National standards should be based on what it takes to be successful in either college or the workforce.
There should be certain core competencies across the United States. We are a global society and our citizens, regardless of what field they choose to go into will have to compete with not only people from their city and state – but from those around the nation and around the world. Schools should be rewarded for following certain requirements. For example, in 2009 Unilever, a consumer goods giant announced a challenging goal: they would double the size of their business. Relying on extending reach in global markets and across new markets they needed to attract and retain skilled workers from manufacturing to human resource management. With technology the most skilled workers do not have to be in the same city or region as Unilever’s headquarters or regional office; they simply need a computer and workspace and can be connected with the company. To keep jobs on our shores, we need a highly skilled workforce that can compete in an interwoven global job market.
The problems that face our country are overwhelming: diseases like AIDS and cancer rip loved ones away from families too soon, poverty and homelessness are pandemics require an educated nation of citizens to tackle these problems. Once graduating with a degree, students should have creativity, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills to address some of the nation’s toughest problems and make our country stronger. When we let our students fail out of school, we fail our country.
Critical thinking skills are on the top of employer’s list of qualities they would most like to see in a candidate. The issues we are facing in our country and abroad are fierce, and there should be a national curriculum to test student’s ability to analyze facts and recognize patterns, problem solve effectively, and communicate persuasively throughout the United States. Being able to analyze situations, make sound decisions, and solve problems effectively is the type of skill that is launching missions deeper into space and rebuilding and monitoring levees in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Constitutional responsibilities for education have long resided with the states, and while states like Tennessee have accomplished higher education reform and states like Georgia have created early childhood learning programs this sentiment is not shared throughout the nation. So while some states are increasing access to education and others providing a better education for all citizens a majority of states are not accomplishing those initiatives. The reality is citizens in California, for example, are not only competing in a workforce solely made up of fellow Californians – but from others around the country and the world. Nearly a century ago as our economy gave way from farming to industry, a movement began to make high school free and available to all Americans. Similarly in the 21st century, in a society that’s driven by information and innovation, more is required — a national education standard from Preschool through higher education. Giving children the best shot of life.
ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY PRESCHOOL
Finally, high-quality preschool should be to give every child access to a high-quality, early education. High-quality preschool should be available to every child in America. Education has to start at the earliest possible age. The earlier a child begins learning, the better the child does down the road.
Fewer than three in ten four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class families cannot afford a few hundred dollars a week. Qualified, well-educated teachers need to teach children patterns, how to critically think, and build their vocabulary through conversation, so they are well prepared for kindergarten. The size of a parent’s paycheck should not determine a child’s future. At a young age getting children interested in fields like science, technology, engineering, and math – where we are most likely to fall behind – is critical to keep America competitive on a global scale. The achievement gap starts off very young — children starting off kindergarten who do not know numbers and shapes already start off behind. Eventually, a student will feel so far behind that they feel they have no choice to drop out. Preschool development grants should be developed to assist states in forming quality preschool programs.