I sat down with An Education blog in Lynn to answer a few questions:
The term ‘failing’ has been used a great deal to describe the state of the traditional public education system in this country. Do you believe U.S. schools are ‘failing’?
The vast majority of public schools are providing an excellent education to our children.There are so many wonderful teachers, like many I remember from my grade schooldays, who are inspiring and instructing our young people. My sister is one of these wonderful teachers; she teaches high school history at a Massachusetts public school.Unfortunately, however, there are many schools that are, in fact, failing our kids. Too often, both in the 6th district and across the country, the zip code in which a child is born determines his or her educational opportunities.
To close this opportunity gap, we need more federal and state funding going directly to schools, and accountability amongst teachers and administrators; we need to support our teachers by providing them adequate compensation for their hard work, and we need to diversify our national standards beyond testing metrics. We need to educate the “whole child,” and not just “teach to the test.” Communities with struggling schools must not be ignored or ostracized for their past performance, but must be embraced by the local community and federal government to make for a better educational environment for tomorrow’s students.
While we are not failing across the board, we are also not living up to the high standards of educational equity that we should set for ourselves.
Proponents of the federal Race to the Top program believe that the competitive grant program will serve as a powerful catalyst for education reform while others criticize its focus on high stakes testing. Are you in support of the Race to the Top program?
I support Race to the Top as a program; I believe that it incentivizes teachers, schools and states to perform at their best. However, I firmly believe that it should not be the only major grant program offered to states by the federal government. In academic communities – both at the local and state level - where students are at a competitive disadvantage already, the answer is not to turn away students, eliminate funding opportunities, or turn to charter schools.
We need to promote answers that empower local leaders to do whatever is best for their school, not just what is best for the test.
One of the criteria for Race to the Top funding is to ensure “conditions for high performing charters and other innovative schools.” What is your opinion of the growing charter school sector? Do charter schools, particularly in urban districts, have a place in U.S. public education?
I believe in letting parents choose what is best for their children. That said, charterschools are not the solution to the opportunity gap that exists in this country. The Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP, Match Education and others, have provided a valuable service to kids growing up in poverty, but the selectivity and resources necessary to make these schools successful cannot come at the expense of other struggling public schools. We cannot be funneling large amounts of federal dollars and resources to charter schools. Our public school system is the backbone of this nation, and with some effort, thoughtful legislation, significant federal appropriations, and creative thinking, we can close the education gap and turn our entire educational system around.
In part, the Bank on Students Emergency Refinancing Act introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren would allow eligible student loan borrowers to refinance high interest loans down the rates offered to new borrowers under the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act. Do you believe this to be an effective way to deal with the student loan debt situation?
The struggle to afford student loans is very personal to me. At 35 years old, I’m still paying back the loans I took to afford my college education. Allowing students to refinance their high interest student loans is one piece of the puzzle in ensuring students leave school with manageable debt. However, the more fundamental problem is the soaring cost of tuition, which has risen 90% since 1998, on the backs of students and our loans.
I believe in providing consumer protections to ensure student loan practices are not usury in nature. Colleges, universities, and the federal government should not be making money off student loan defaults. Meanwhile, limiting the use of student loan financing to go towards only direct educational needs is another way to limit soaring college tuition rates. Solving the student loan crisis will be necessary to ensure our education system helps foster successful generations of American workers in the future as it has in the past.
Part of President Obama’s plan for higher education includes the goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020. Do you believe that this is something the U.S. should specifically be striving toward? Why or why not?
When President Kennedy spoke, in 1961, about sending a man to the moon within thedecade, people laughed. Eight years later, we accomplished the feat. As a country, and as a government, having goals is a good thing. By the metrics with which the Western world defines success, high college graduate rates symbolize prosperity. That said, I look at things a bit differently. In today’s world, where student loan debt has hampered a generation, where we have bifurcating narratives for students of lower socioeconomic means and those in the middle and upper classes, we cannot predict what will best suit future generations. We need to provide access to opportunities for all Americans. Higher education will certainly be one route, but providing viable alternatives must also be a priority.
While I will always support those who wish to pursue a college education, we also need to look at empowering vocational schools, community colleges, and other institutions with the funds and tools needed to train and equip workers for a 21st century economy.