A legacy of giving our children a Head Start

As we reflect on how U.S. presidents have influenced the course of our national life, their consistent support for serving at-risk children exemplifies the true American spirit.
For more than 45 years, presidents have recognized the value of investing in our most vulnerable children by supporting the Head Start vision.  Established by President Johnson in 1965 to tackle the achievement gap among low-income children, Head Start served 560,000 children in its first summer. Johnson said of Head Start’s first success that it was a symbol “of this nation’s commitment to the goal that no American Child shall be condemned to failure by accident of birth.” Since then, Head Start has launched more than 27 million young lives onto a pathway to success and now serves nearly one million children each year.


GOP can learn from the Gipper on education

Ronald Reagan did not believe that Washington could do much to solve our nation’s most pressing social problems. Except, it seems, when it came to education. The Great Gipper was among the first to understand the scope of our nation’s education crisis, and his administration pushed for the federal government to take a bigger role in making sure that all students achieved at high levels. And if today’s GOP really wants to improve our public education system, they should take note.
To be sure, when Reagan first ran for office in 1980, he sounded a lot like today’s Republican party on education issues. Reagan promised to roll back the federal role in education and abolish the Department of Education, calling the agency “President Carter’s new bureaucratic boondoggle.”
But soon after coming into office, Reagan almost completely switched his position. The reason was simple: In 1984, a federal commission released “A Nation at Risk,” a scathing report that documented the failure of our education system.


President Obama’s discussion of college costs is timely but needs to be expanded

President Obama’s State of the Union address and his speech at the University of Michigan made broad sweeping comments about education and the issue of rising college costs. As Chairwoman of the Higher Education Subcommittee, I share his concern about exploding college costs and the burden of student loans. 

According to the College Board, tuition and fees have spiked over the last decade. In-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities rose approximately 72 percent since 2001, at public two-year institutions of higher education by 45 percent and private four-year institutions by 29 percent. Over the same period of time, the rate of inflation was approximately 27 percent. Obviously, there is a big gap between inflation and these rising costs; consumers want to know why.  


College debt threatens the hopes and dreams of minority students

Our country is facing a perfect storm of rising college costs, student debt and growing inequality.  While the costs will be significant for an entire generation of students, they will be particularly high for Black and Hispanic graduates struggling to create a more prosperous future.

Here’s why:

The odds of paying off college debt are much tougher for minority graduates, particularly Black men, who face far higher unemployment than their White counterparts. More than 25 percent of Black men younger than 24 with college degrees were unemployed last year, about the same rate as young Black men who were college dropouts.  

Before the recession Black male high school graduates were more likely to be employed than current Black male college grads, according to Andrew Sum, director of the center for labor market studies at Northeastern University.


Want economic growth? Invest in education.

Many challenges our nation is currently facing can be overcome in the long-term by providing a better education and more opportunities for our children. Quality education directly impacts economic growth. We need a successful education infrastructure that creates a strong foundation in order to ensure the future success of our nation. 

We must invest in early childhood education and other successful education programs like distance-learning in Tennessee – a project led by the Niswonger Foundation.  The distance-learning program is creating new opportunities and developing new skills for students in Tennessee that they might not have otherwise been able to receive.
A high-quality education is critical for a child’s future no matter what country they grow up in. While in Afghanistan, one of the most incredible stories I heard was about children asking soldiers for pencils because those who attend school are considered a higher status.  It was an admirable thing to see that the Afghani children are hungry to learn and gain an education.


Building a human infrastructure

Have you ever considered education as a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure? We hear a lot about our decaying roads and bridges and the need to provide money and jobs to make improvements. We pay attention to this because an unsafe bridge or a large pothole is difficult to ignore. While spending money on roads, bridges, and power grids is necessary, it is also critical in 2011 for the United States to re-build our human infrastructure. This is how a stronger economy and society will ultimately emerge.

A strong human infrastructure needs to be based around education. The challenges facing education are much less obvious than a gaping pothole, but just as dangerous to the well-being of our nation. In 2011, we are a nation at risk as a result of policies that perpetuate a system of educational haves and have nots. It is no secret that the number of persons slipping into poverty has increased in the United States. It is also no secret that our country is challenged with high school drop-out rates and high unemployment.

As a nation, we are struggling to educate, motivate, and graduate sufficient numbers of students to meet our current and projected labor force requirements. These problems are complex and do not have simple solutions. However, every indicator that I look at points to education as the only proven path out of poverty and is the leading indicator in achieving social success as well.


Protect children with disabilities from school violence

Landon K., a 6-year-old boy with autism, was in first grade in a Mississippi elementary school when the 300-pound assistant principal picked up an inch-thick paddle and started hitting Landon on the buttocks. His grandmother, Jacquelyn K., told me: “My child just lost it ... he was screaming and hollering ... it just devastated him.”
The fact is that children with disabilities -- including children with autism, children in wheelchairs, and children with learning disorders -- face routine violence in schools at higher rates than their peers. Students with disabilities, only 14 percent of all students nationwide, make up 19 percent of those who suffer corporal punishment. 


Executive action or political grandstanding?

In his annual Back to School Speech on Wednesday, President Obama said that he took an ethics class in the eighth grade, learning about right and wrong. The President admitted ethics was not his favorite subject in school, basketball was. Perhaps the President should have paid more attention in his ethics class instead of on his game. Because while the President has claimed a desire to work with Congress to fix the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, he has in reality tried to circumvent Congress, alleging an inability to reach consensus on a broad plan.

In direct contradiction to what the President has claimed, House and Senate Republicans are the only ones who have actually produced legislative work to fix NCLB. The Obama administration and Secretary Duncan have claimed a desire to work with Congress but have little to show for it. The best they could do was to “borrow” language used by Republicans, calling his recently released waivers plan, a “flexibility” plan.

The President released his waivers plan last week, saying he wants to relieve states from the NCLB requirements for students to be 100 percent proficient in math and reading by 2014, but only if they adopt his requirements in exchange. The euphemistically labeled executive action is actually coercive administrative legislating.


Americans trust their teachers to have strong voice in reform

In the most recent Gallup poll, 82 percent of Americans said they disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Still, in a separate poll a month earlier, 54 percent said they like their own congressperson and would vote to keep him or her in office. Clearly there is a disconnect between what Americans think of our nation broadly and what they think about what’s going on in their little sliver of it.

In my experience meeting parents around the country, the same phenomenon can be seen in education. If you ask most Americans how they feel about education in general, their view is very dim. They’re worried that students in countries like China and Japan are overtaking U.S. students. They worry about lagging test scores and about whether their children will even be prepared for a job, much less college, upon high school graduation.

But if you ask parents how they feel about their own child’s teacher, principal or school, their outlook is much more optimistic. They may have quibbles, but their perspective is certainly not as dark as it is when talking about the U.S. education system in general.


Who are the "DREAMers?"

The Obama administration has decided to drop deportation proceedings for “some” illegal immigrants and give them work visas instead.
That “some” is a big question. They include both illegal immigrants in deportation hearings and those who are known as DREAMers. The numbers range between 200,000 to two million, depending on the advocacy organization doing the spinning. Who are these illegal immigrants dreaming of soon-to-be legalization and work visas, and how many are there really?
There are presently some 300,000 illegal immigrants at some stage in the deportation process. The prosecutorial discretion now being granted would free (supposedly on a case-to-case basis) all but those convicted of the most violent crimes – some estimate 80-90 percent of the total. Hence, over 250,000 of those illegal immigrants would be freed and given work visas.
DREAMers is the term used by the National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) president Janet Murguia, for illegal immigrants who would qualify for a pathway to citizenship under the yet-to-be-passed DREAM Act legislation.  They number well over one million.