It’s hard to believe that it’s been over ten years since former President George W. Bush and former Senator Ted Kennedy stood together on a stage and shook hands as their parties unanimously supported the most dramatic educational reform bill, No Child Left Behind, since Brown vs. Board of Education. There’s a certain irony that what was arguably the most bipartisan educational policy effort in recent political memory also managed to become the most polarizing amongst so many other educational stakeholders: parents, students, teachers, administrators, taxpayers, and eventually politicians.
It’s no secret that No Child Left Behind has developed into one of the most intensely debated issues of modern politics. As a result, many other educational policy concerns and debates have arisen: Charter Schools, Vouchers, School Funding, Race to the Top, Waivers, etc. Yet for all the local, state, and federal efforts and rhetoric, no dramatic educational overhaul has actually occurred.
However, as 2014 looms, the date where all schools are expected to be 100% proficient in both reading and math, the time has never been more appropriate for real reform. Now that President Obama has been reelected to a second term and the GOP still holds the House, the time is perfect for real bipartisanship to finally occur, and education is just the issue where it can happen.
At the moment, President Obama is tangled in another financial quandary as he battles back and forth with republican leaders over the looming fiscal cliff. Whenever this ongoing saga is resolved, the president must immediately set his sights on education reform. Yes, the economy is the most pressing of issues, but if President Obama is looking beyond just the next four years and quick fixes for the economy, and if he truly wants to put America on the right track to real, long-term economic and social amelioration, then education must be his primary focus.
Education is actually one of the few issues where Democrats and Republicans actually share similar political views, and thus an area where meaningful bipartisan improvement could happen. At the recent National Education Summit in Washington D.C., a gathering of lawmakers, educational strategists, teachers, and other stakeholders, former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, spoke passionately about ending the achievement gap in an effort to end the growing economic gap. Bush, considered by many to be a viable, republican candidate for president in 2016 and a true school reformer, would be the perfect ally for President Obama to reach across the table to and collaborate with on education.
Bush serves as the chairman of the board of The Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonpartisan think tank that seeks to develop, promote, and implement educational reforms across all fifty states. It’s an organization that is working to bring awareness to the current inequalities in education and draw even more attention to the incredible successes happening in certain schools and states. It’s just the kind of organization that President Obama and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, must support and collaborate with if they desire significant, long-lasting changes to happen.
A bipartisan educational policy across all states will ensure long term benefits that are in the best interest of all students and communities. Higher graduation rates, reducing the achievement gap, and increasing college admissions must be priorities for all schools and states and the federal government. Supporting digital learning, providing more school choice, rectifying school funding, increasing standards and improving pay for teachers, holding students more accountable, encouraging greater community involvement are just some of the steps that must be taken under a more concentrated, collective educational vision. As the media and politicians are always quick to point to the failings of the education system and their disastrous effects, then it is only fitting that for real advances to occur, they must happen in America’s schools.
The new movie Lincoln, based on the story Team of Rivals, highlights Abraham Lincoln’s extraordinary efforts to pass the 13th Amendment, abolish slavery, and end the Civil War. It details the great lengths Lincoln went to compromise and work with his political opponents in achieving this goal. Lincoln faced many challenges besides these, but he knew that focusing his attention to the most important would not only serve the country best but unite it as well. Although he does not face the same challenges as Lincoln, President Obama has many obstacles ahead of him. He’d be wise to narrow his focus on education and partner with his rivals to achieve something truly momentous.