10/25/2012 08:39 am ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

Scrutinizing Schooling

The United States is riddled with numerous issues that threaten the livelihood and prosperity of its 300 million citizens. ObamaCare is being hotly contested, the war against terror has devolved into guerilla tactics and drone strikes, and climate change is a concern now more than ever. All of these issues certainly deserve attention, but as I sit here drafting this essay, I can't help but wonder if most of my fellow high school students ever think about, much less write about, what they believe the most important issue in the upcoming election is. Are they even aware of what the issues are? Somehow I doubt it. I don't blame my teachers for this, nor do I believe it is directly the fault of the students themselves. Rather, I believe the lack of focus education has received on the local, state and national level has rendered the educational status of this country what may be deemed a national crisis.

For a nation supposedly built on equal opportunity and endless possibilities, the United States devotes hardly a fraction of its attention toward educational growth, disregarding students' needs while disputes over the recession or wars overseas dominate the minds of most elected officials, consequently limiting the prospects of millions of students nationwide. When compared to high-powered lobbyists, corporate elites and governmental agencies, what chance do the interests of ordinary students with no ability to vote and no political leverage stand at getting heard? Perhaps education has been neglected because politicians simply don't believe in its value anymore, or perhaps because the rise of corporations means the death of free expression and critical thinking that schools have always promoted. Regardless of what the culprit is, education is in danger of becoming endangered.

Education is crucial to foster a generation of logical, intelligent individuals who are equipped to handle our nation's difficulties. The most brilliant technological innovations, the most important policy decisions, and the most renowned academic discoveries are all products of those who were educated by our once-dominant schooling system. Unfortunately, despite our need for more breakthroughs like these, public school classes are now cut consistently, after-school opportunities are limited, and art and musical options are eliminated. As students receive less and less attention from teachers due to the swelling class sizes and college tuition becomes higher and higher due to decreased funding, students continually lose the motivation to complete their K-12 education and thus may not continue on to higher education.

The results are reflected in our educational standing compared to the 196 other countries in the world today. Though we invest more per student than any other nation, with over $809.6 billion of our federal budget allocated toward education, we have little to show for it, ranking 14th in reading, 25th in math, and 17th in science internationally.

Furthermore, 25 percent of American students are unable to graduate high school on time, and only 43 percent of SAT test-takers satisfy college-ready standards. These disappointing statistics put us at a considerable disadvantage: In an increasingly globalized world, it is vital to maintain our status as a world leader and to cultivate bright young minds able to solving the problems of tomorrow. Because our education lags behind other rising powers, however, we are left with individuals unprepared to compete in the global market, placing America's future at serious risk. In short, we are overspending and underperforming.

When I walk through my school halls, I see students struggle to receive attention from their over-worked and over-wrought teachers, walk past peers failing their classes because they haven't been convinced of the value of a diploma, and hear snippets of conversation from fellow students who worry about how they are going to pay for their university tuition. This is the reality of the American educational system. This is how we are leaving our future leaders when we place the responsibilities of our country into the palms of their hands, how we are going to thrust them into the international arena to cope with the problems that we remained unable to solve. This is our future.

With all of these points in mind, education should receive far more attention from the media, the federal government, and the presidential candidates than it currently does. The economic crisis, unemployment, healthcare, climate change, Middle East relations -- all of the problems the United States faces today -- require a capable, intellectual workforce to undertake them, thus necessitating that we refocus our attention on education to cultivate such workers. Only in this way can we hope to sustain our role as the political, economic and intellectual leader of the international community.