During the election season, there are usually one or two hot-button political issues that dominate the national conversation, so we wanted to take this opportunity to talk about something that matters to us and hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves: education.
Unfortunately, the next generation of Americans is falling behind. Of the 77 countries tested by the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2018, U.S. students ranked 30th in math, 8th in reading, and 11th in science. And we’re getting worse, not better.
The education system we have isn’t working. Our graduates are not prepared for the jobs that are available to them, and those that are, are losing those jobs to foreign nationals willing to come to America and work for less.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Higher Education Act as part of his Great Society agenda. The landmark legislation officially recognized the benefits to society of widespread access to higher education and aimed to increase its availability.
Since then, the Higher Education Act has been reauthorized eight times, and after years of wrangling, a ninth major update was expected to become actionable this past spring. It raises Pell Grant limits, simplifies the financial aid application process and introduces a new protocol for investigating allegations of sexual assault on college campuses. But along came the pandemic, and the legislation has been delayed in favor of competing priorities.
These are valuable steps forward, but we are missing new laws to help future generations compete in a globalized labor market. The rest of this column is devoted to them.
Firstly, we need to pay our teachers more. Multiple studies of school districts found that raising wages increased the size and quality of the teacher application pool and low wages discourage teachers from remaining in the profession. So, each year, eight percent of all teachers leave the profession for other jobs. For our students to excel, we have to make sure we pay our teachers more and that they want to stay and teach.
If we are serious about providing a valuable, efficient and affordable education to our citizens, then we must reimagine the entire system starting at the bottom. On a fundamental level, the process of educating our young people doubles as a form of public child care. We would like to see education reform that emphasizes the use of public preschool so that working parents can go back to their jobs without worrying about the safety of their kids. Expanding government-subsidized education to children ages three to five offers parents the ability to return to work and allows children to begin their education earlier.
Furthermore, our emphasis on the liberal arts is too strong. Exposure to a wide variety of food for thought is important, but not at the expense of a valuable education. The federal government should encourage school districts to mandate more technology, sustainability and civics classes in place of some traditional core courses. Six years of elementary school, three years of middle school, and four years of high school add up to 13 years of onerous, redundant liberal arts education. And if you go to a liberal arts college or pursue a bachelor’s degree in a non-STEM field, it could take you as many as 17 years before you start a meaningful professional degree or begin learning on the job.
We propose that elementary school, middle school, high school and college be condensed into two seven-year periods of primary and secondary education. Under this new system, parents would have the option to enroll their children in the public option for preschool (ages 3-5), primary school (ages 5-12), and secondary school (ages 12-19) without incurring any additional tuition fees. Upon graduation from secondary school, students would then be given a choice: Choose a graduate degree at any public institution, finish within five years and the government will pay the cost of tuition; or complete one year of national service before joining the workforce.
The service option offers young people — who may not thrive in a traditional learning environment — an opportunity to learn, grow and contribute without staying in school past the age of 20. Servicemen and women will have the ability to choose military, civil or another approved form of service.
Overhauling our education system is the only way we can prepare our next generation of leaders for the problems of tomorrow. Through practical policy and valuable education, our country can reach new heights and get back to leading the world.