Prioritizing Education — the Economic Equalizer
Early Childhood Education
Respecting and Empowering Teachers
Post Secondary Opportunities
Financing a College Education
In a country with great disparities of wealth and opportunity among its citizenry, a strong education CAN be the great equalizer. Therefore, I believe a strong country needs and deserves strong, justly resourced public school systems. Providing a strong, accessible, comprehensive and competent public education to every child, so that they might enjoy their full potential in life and career, must be a state and national priority and must be seen as the first stage in any economic development plan.
Only through the public’s support for school systems set up to serve every child equitably can this be achieved. Those that can afford and choose a private education for their child should not receive government rebates to reward that choice, nor should they be forgiven their share of support for the public education given to others.
We must also invest and better prioritize early childhood education. Experts tell us that a child’s brain development is critical between birth and age 5. Like a clean slate or a dry sponge, it is the age at which they can absorb the most knowledge, observation, thinking, language, and even emotional states. From 2003 — 2005, I was fortunate enough to serve as Senior Government Affairs Officer at First 5 LA, Los Angeles County’s First 5 Commission established by 1998’s Proposition 10 in California. While I had an appreciation for this brain science going into the position, my role with First 5 LA reinforced my resolve and belief in early childhood education as a leading indicator of a child’s ability to enter Kindergarten and primary school intellectually curious and ready to learn.
Therefore, it is my view that the public education system I so passionately support must not begin with Kindergarten. A pre-K education includes:
- PARENTS: reading and talking to a child while still in utero, continuing these habits when born, and encouraging play and discovery as well as language development 0-3.
- PRE-K EDUCATION: It then should continue beginning at age 3 in pre-K education, or “pre-school” as we more often call it. Access to preschool for every child 3 and even 4 is still elusive for far too many Americans. We must generate the resources and invest in the infrastructure necessary to provide access to pre-school for every American. We all win when every child enters Kindergarten intellectually curious, socialized with other children, and ready to learn.
As the son of a middle-school educator, I also believe in public school teachers and empowering them to TEACH. The Education Code (“Ed Code”) in California is as thick as the Yellow Pages (used to be). And while I believe in standards and meeting specific education goals in a progressive, prescribed curriculum appropriate to respective grade levels, I am opposed to overly prescriptive approaches that attempt to make teachers “automatons.” That is to say, which would make them merely robots who pass out tests and assign pages of a book to read. Any proposed policy which would limit public school teachers’ collective ability to leverage their unique teaching abilities, or approaches proven effective in reaching students, should be viewed with skepticism. It can often be the approach of a particularly talented teacher that makes the difference in reaching and advancing his/her students and their ability to retain knowledge and think critically.
For the last 20-30 years, the right wing has demonized teachers by demonizing teachers UNIONS (saying, “Oh, we love teachers, just not their unions.” Ugh), as if the ability of teachers to collectively bargain — negotiating for what are already below market wages, a reasonable classroom size, and the right to find and utilize their own unique teaching styles are the reason our public schools are so challenged today. That premise is utter nonsense. The well-known false narrative, “those who can’t do… teach,” was no doubt originally voiced by some right wing crank who may have had some personal success, but for all we know may not have made a very good teacher. Further, the right wing, in their war on noble and honorable teachers and the teaching profession, have ginned up a certain subsection of parents who were apparently all too ready for a message that their children are perfect. Some have come to believe that their child’s teacher is always wrong or somehow incompetent when judging the academic progress of their child. When my parents generation and my own were making our way through school, if a teacher stated to us or our parents (in, say, a parent-teacher conference) several things a student needed to work on to improve, we were expected to respect our teacher and heed what they were talking about… or at least discuss it respectfully. Today, it is far too common for a certain subsection of parents to challenge the teacher, defending their “perfect child,” and explaining that their B- grade really “must” be changed to an “A,” (leaving out an almost parenthetical “or else” in their tone). My mother noticed this difference across her 26 years teaching mostly middle-school aged children. It happened over time, and was cultivated by an anti-teacher message coming from either the most privileged and/or politically conservative elements of society.
… should be used to measure where a particular grade or even classroom of students are academically vs. where state and common core standards suggest they should be academically. They should be a tool for improvement that simply shows where improvement is needed. They should not be determining curriculum — which I believe should include more “project-based learning” and critical thinking exercises — and should not be deciding the absolute fate of students and teachers. They are an overused part of the ballgame right now, and don’t think for a moment that there isn’t a “Big Standardized Test” network of private companies that benefit from the number and importance put upon such tests.
I live in Los Angeles County, the “Capitol of Charter Schools.” Once billed as “the magic bullet,” Charter Schools have had some success but have hardly been proven the “be all, end all” education solution by any stretch. I certainly believe Charters should be among the (but certainly not the only) many “right answers” to our education challenges. But, I do have to ask – and this same question could be posed regarding prisons – were schools meant to be entrepreneurial, money making ventures? And do those profit pressures perhaps have some effect on what’s important to a charter school? I’m really asking.
My personal code on Charter schools:
- They should be places for approved experimentation in education, such as more localized control of budget priorities
- They are not “better” or “more important” simply because they have the word “Charter” in their name. They should be expected to perform as well and care for students as much as any public school system, for which we must remember Charters ARE a part
- They should be expected to follow the same oversight and safety regulations expected of any other public school
- They should meet or exceed the same statewide curriculum requirements as all other public schools
- Their teachers and classified staff must not only be allowed, but also must be offered, the opportunity to unionize and collectively bargain for pay and other benefits
Following High School, all students should have the opportunity to continue their education with either a college degree or an Associate’s Degree — OR a certificate program in a particular vocation for which a college education may not be required. To accomplish the latter, we in California must stop treating our community college system as a “nice bonus if we can get it,” and instead a cornerstone of the local / regional education fabric. We have to more fully fund programs – robust programs at that – that train our future mechanics, X-ray and other medical technicians, factory and line workers, solar installers, etc.
For traditional four-year college students, we have to make it just that – 4 years. The CSU and UC system have put their students through a maze of requirements that has forced a 5th and in some cases 6th year of college for far too many. This not only adds to the overall financial burden in funding one’s college education, but also puts these particular students behind their peers who are entering the full-time job market or advanced degree program much sooner because those peers benefited from institutions that structured a definitive 4-year pathway to graduation.
And speaking of “Big” cabals, I firmly believe that “Big Student Loan” must be reigned in and not a moment too soon. I personally carry a student loan burden at over 7 percent — which is considered fortunate compared to some – but a mortgage on my house below 5%. Why does a low prime lending rate not apply to student loan providers?! We must end the dependency scam that is the great post-college debt burden that has become a giant weight on so many Americans, and for so many years before payoff.
Free college for all? Sounds great — but I object to taxpayer dollars subsidizing the college education of the really well-to-do. We should work to eventually cover and income qualify as many students as possible for free or reduced college, and certainly “debt-free college.” But I do believe the wealthy should still be helping us finance that goal — NOT add to the cost burden of reaching that goal.