If you walk past the National Mall in Washington, D.C. this week, you may think you've stepped into the nation’s largest classroom. Eight hundred fifty-seven desks line the expansive green, symbolizing the 857 students that drop out of school every hour of the school day. The College Board -- a membership organization known primarily for issuing standardized tests for college admissions -- has organized the campaign to send a potent message to policymakers: get education on the 2012 election agenda.
Here are five reasons why education should top the policy agenda in the next four years:
1) Higher costs have made public higher education less accessible.
Universities took a major financial hit after the 2008 recession, with 36 states suffering budget reductions from legislatively-allocated taxpayer appropriations. For students across the nation, these cuts mean fewer scholarships, higher tuition, and burdensome student loans. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities states that 2011 marked “an irreversible slide of U.S public higher education being a collectively-funded public good to that of an individually purchased private good.”
2) Cyberbullying needs to be addressed.
In 2010, President Barack Obama started an annual conference on Bullying Prevention to bring attention to an issue that is affecting one-third of the youth population in the U.S. High-profile tragic incidents, like the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, beg for examination into the role schools and universities play in ensuring the online safety of their students. States have found it difficult to characterize cyberbullying in their legislation. School districts are still figuring out how to take responsibility for off-campus interactions (i.e. online) that affect their students. While each state will have different laws to punish cyberbullying, the issue is national and pervasive; it requires coordination and attention at the federal level.
3) College graduation rates need to increase for the U.S. to remain competitive.
According to Stacey Childress of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the current college graduation rate means that by 2018 our country will be three million people short of the 101 million jobs that require a college education. You don’t need a degree to know that this shortage compromises our globally-competitive workforce and economy.
4) Students lack crucial skills.
In 2009, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 74% of 12th graders scored below proficient in math and 62% scored below proficient in reading. Whether or not you believe in standardized tests, the reality is that our kids are not learning as much as they need to.
5) Students face unequal opportunities.
Our education system is not giving each student the same educational opportunities to succeed. Racial segregation persists; only 2% of students with disabilities enroll in AP classes; girls are underrepresented in physics; and more than two million high schoolers lack the option to learn calculus. These realities scream for policy attention at all levels and should be of major concern to both political parties.