Gabriel Ozuna is an undergraduate at Yale University (Class of 2015). He was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley and is a proud resident of Donna, Texas, where he graduated from IDEA College Preparatory.
With less than a month to go before Election Day, it is easy to get lost in the unavailing political banter that always seems to drown out the real issues, which I think neither candidate wants to face. Any intelligent debate gets reduced to an overly simplistic bullet-point plan, slogan, or criticism of one’s opponent. But the current education crisis desperately demands that both candidates submit comprehensive proposals on how they plan to overhaul the educational system after the election.
Unfortunately, yesterday’s debate between Obama's and Romney's education advisers, Jon Schnur and Phil Handy, failed to give much further insight into what changes we can expect in the next four years. Schnur began his defense of President Obama’s first term by describing the President’s “commitment to education” even in the midst of economic collapse. Apparently, writing in a $100 billion provision into his stimulus package makes up for Obama’s failure to enact lasting educational changes in the long run. While the initial cash flow may have helped sustain some programs like Pell Grants and Head Start, the money we threw at them is now gone with little more to show for it than an increased deficit.
Handy, on the other hand, idealistically restated the same educational platform the Republican Party has held for the last decade – using state and local policy to raise educational standards frosted with a fantastic promise of “vouchers for all!” Now, there is much to be said for localizing how schools are run and evaluated in a state-by-state basis so that school districts are better held accountable to local entities like parents and communities. But we need specifics about how Romney plans to create incentives for states to raise their academic standards under his proposed “revamp” of NCLB.
Similarly, vouchers have their role to play. For many families zoned to the worst of our public schools, these federal vouchers are likely the only chance they have of receiving a decent education. While vouchers may be more effective than throwing money at these failing school districts, they are only a solution to the symptom, unable to address the greater problem in making our schools solvent.
Both Schnur and Handy agree that the key to restoring American educational prestige is in raising academic standards across the board, but again, the “how” remains to be fully explored, lying somewhere between “designing better tests” at the federal level and “letting states take the offensive” to raise their own standards. Both agreed on the importance of incentivizing teaching careers, but weren’t able to give concrete descriptions of how to accomplish this. And so on for college tuition, early child education, and the arts, with each side refusing to budge from their position but criticizing the other’s before hearing it through.
I do not claim to have the answer to our problems, but I believe that the only way to find those answers is to follow in the footsteps of programs and institutions that have made real headway. If a local charter network has found a way to incentivize teacher performance, let’s see if we can apply that more broadly. If a state has found a way to systematically boost academic rigor and proficiency, let’s encourage other states to explore a similar approach or implement it nationwide. If my high-school history teacher found a way to get 100% of her students to meet a certain academic standard, let’s find out how she did it and put it into practice around the nation.
We will never solve our education crisis if we meander around the extremes of our party platforms. Rather, we must reward methods that yield success and abandon those that continue to fail, regardless of politics.
Gabriel Ozuna is an undergraduate at Yale University (Class of 2015). He was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley and is a proud resident of Donna, Texas, where he graduated from IDEA College Preparatory in 2011. Gabriel was first introduced to the importance of education through his parents, both of whom are certified teachers with over 20 years of experience in public schools. When he began attending IDEA Public Schools, Gabriel was taught by many Teach for America corps members who greatly influenced him to play an active role in the future of the American educational system.