Education has to become a real national priority. No Child Left Behind was great as a slogan coined by the Children’s Defense Fund. It is a disaster as a national education law. College education is exceedingly unaffordable and the cost precludes many potential students from pursuing a college degree. Progressives must unite Americans to meet the challenges facing our education system in the 21st century. We must make progress in several key areas.
- More Learning Time: All children should enjoy quality pre-school and kindergarten learning and socialization, and students from 1st through 12th grades should have meaningful afterschool education opportunities. The school year should move from the agricultural calendar of the 19th century to a calendar that maximizes learning.
- Quality Teachers and Principals: Skilled educators should teach all students. Every teachers and principal should receive high-quality training before he or she enters school, have on-the-job training opportunities, and be rewarded for excellence. If we hope to retain the best teachers, we need to pay them more and provide them with career opportunities. Our best educators should receive financial incentives to teach in those schools with the most at-risk children.
- An Equal Education: Every student should have an opportunity to learn. Adequate health care and nutrition, and an end to the savage inequality in school funding, are all keys to providing an equal education.
- A Rigorous Education: Every student should be provided a first-rate education with demanding curriculum standards in core subject areas. Voluntary national standards can help parents hold schools accountable.
- Affordable College: Every child must know that he or she can afford a college education. No student should be priced out of the college or advanced technical training they need to succeed in the modern economy. Tuition rates, grant aid, and loan forgiveness must be readjusted to make college affordable.
Progressives should challenge every sector of society and every level of government to make education a top priority. Doubling federal expenditures on education—from three to six percent—should be adopted as a near-term goal, even as states and localities are challenged to invest more. To guarantee the money is used well, we should require that districts are spending money wisely and investing in best practices.
America’s future depends on how well we educate our children. To provide every child with a world-class education we need to start sooner, set standards higher and provide opportunities for advanced training and college for all. We need to attract and retain skilled teachers. We need to restructure the school day and the school year. Money alone won’t solve the problems facing our schools, but a policy of reforms without resources mocks the scope of our challenge.