I am committed to addressing education issues as a top priority. I believe that education is the centerpiece of a civilized society. With it, we can accomplish the extraordinary – exploring the universe, cracking the genetic code or producing great books, works of art and music. Without it, we degenerate into chaos with poverty, crime, and minimum wage jobs.
My wife, Lynn, taught school for 16 years. Our children have attended public, private and alternative schools, by our choice. We know a lot of educators. They tell us that every child can learn, but not in the same way or on the same day. They tell us that smaller classrooms allow them to individualize their instruction to enable each student to learn using their unique learning styles. Teachers know that children who have gone to pre-school and kindergarten are better prepared to learn. Educators, counselors and teachers agree that parental involvement is a significant contributor to student achievement. All agree that a 21st Century education must focus on teaching critical thinking skills, and the abilities to analyze, speak, write and listen. Forward thinking is essential to prepare our children for jobs that don’t exist today and for a future that is difficult to imagine.
To address the challenges facing schools, we need to focus on learning, achievement, and training and retaining quality teachers. Inspired principals are critical to reform. They are the instructional leaders of the school. Studies consistently conclude that teachers are the single most important contributor to students’ success. Well-trained, experienced teachers who are provided with opportunities for professional development and the time to learn about “best practices” for instruction, curriculum and assessment are the key to drive schools to achieve dramatic results. Retaining and supporting experienced and competent teachers has to be a priority. We need to consider ways to reverse the trend of new teachers quitting within the first three years; teachers should be paid commensurate with their professional credentials and other appropriate criteria.
Investing in Our Future
Our communities cannot thrive without an educated population. To attract businesses, achieve technical advances and prosper as a society we need educated workers. Addressing the 25-30% dropout rate is a critical priority. Alternative schools have proven successful in retaining students by offering individualized approaches to learning. By creatively working with students who have dropped out, we can rekindle the desire to learn. By offering career technical education programs for those who choose not to immediately continue their formal education, we can prepare our children for 21st century careers. Many of the fastest growing jobs do not require a four-year degree but rather apprenticeships and on the job training. Community partnership with local businesses can provide that training to help prepare students for immediate productive careers. I have had extensive experience with such business-education collaborations in the past and know they can be successful.
Thomas Jefferson said that the preservation of a democratic society depends on an educated electorate. By these measures, we are facing a crisis. With one third of our kids dropping out of high school, equally dismal graduation rates and fewer going to college than in the baby boomer generation, we need to make changes. We need to focus on learning and achievement and set high expectations, clear goals, and a smart plan to help our students succeed.
Comprehensive education reform requires that we:
- Retain and support experienced and competent teachers.
- Reverse the trend of new teachers quitting within the first three years.
- Support early childhood education and kindergarten.
- Teacher pay should be commensurate with professional credentials and other appropriate criteria.
- Make college and other post-secondary educational options affordable and attainable for those students who want to attend.
- Provide career and technical education and community mentoring opportunities; many of the fastest growing jobs do not require a four-year degree.