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Gloria Bonilla Santiago

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Education and the Candidates

Posted: 09/18/2012 12:32 pm

So, Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney. Winner takes the White House.

Hopefully, urban education issues aren't going to be kicked down the road to nowhere.

Education was saluted as an issue by both candidates on the primary trail, on the way to the conventions.

But, from here on in, will we be seeing more de-scriptions about what's bad, rather than pre-scriptions about making it better?

I suspect the latter, given the course of both campaigns so far, and the obsession with more or less government spending on things like health and education.

What is more important. Job creation today? Or better preparing the next generation of American workers for job readiness years -- decades, really -- down the road?

Can you really address one without having a plan for the other?

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney should be placing a higher priority on improving the quality of education that is taking place in American classrooms -- especially in America's poor, urban, school districts.

The opportunities that education creates help stimulate the economy. The two go hand in hand.

Both candidates should be mindful of the saying that there's only one thing proves more expensive in life than education -- ignorance.

Ignoring that fact in a national policy debate called a presidential campaign will make an underclass sinkhole below the striving feet of immigrants and the middle class alike.

The solid ground of a competitive public education for all in America is gradually becoming a porous promise

Education is the ticket out of poverty. A poor person with a college degree becomes a job holder and tax payer.

Someone who is stuck in the cycle of poverty? They may rely on government assistance to make ends meet.

My personal story reflects how someone can break the cycle of poverty through education.

As an immigrant myself who chased work where it could be found with my migrant parents, then coursed my way through public education and the middle class to become an urban educator in Camden, New Jersey, one of the poorest cities in America, I look for specifics for the next four years.

Not hearing them, so far, I offer these four suggestions to get that debate started:

-- Making teachers accountable. Teacher accountability works. Merit pay, rewards for teaching effectiveness, academic performance and professional training is critical to transforming public schools.

-- Manage the price of college: At the Republican and Democratic National Conventions this year, both sides mentioned college affordability as a critical issue. Rising tuition costs need to slow. Investing in federal loan and grant programs is money well spent.

-- Keeping class sizes small: After more than two decades in urban education, I can tell you this about class size. Bigger is definitely not better. Smaller class sizes allow a teacher to focus more on each individual student. Large classes mean a student has a chance of slipping through the cracks.

-- Allowing real school choice: School choice was the one issue that was mentioned by each
candidate at the conventions. Gov. Romney's definition of school choice differs from President
Obama's, but both believe there should be more options for students. I agree. Allowing students and their parents to have a say in where they do to school is critical.

I'll add one more caveat. For meaningful change to happen, the eventual winner -- Mitt Romney or Barack Obama -- will have to walk the talk and put real muscle behind their campaign promises.

In my home state of New Jersey, for instance, Gov. Chris Christie recently reformed the way tenure is awarded to teachers. Indeed, many of these reforms were achieved with a Legislature controlled by Democrats with the Republican Governor, who just happened to be Romney's keynote speaker, by the way.

Gov. Christie fought opposition and maintained a stubborn belief that maintaining status quo was unacceptable.

Indeed, our industrial education model of schools cannot be reformed because its broken. We need a revolution in education. We need to transform it into a system of humans who have passion, spirit and energy to meet the challenges of our global times. This is an issue that belongs to both ends of the aisle -- Democrats and Republicans both need to own their share of the solution. Whichever candidate wins, know this: The decisions they make about education will prove meaningful to our economy. Sooner or later.

 

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