Every four years the presidential election cycle spurs our country to have a national conversation about the direction in which our country should be heading. This is where both our water cooler conversations and newspapers delve deeper into issues of great importance: foreign policy, taxes, civil rights, immigration, among others.
Yet election cycle after election cycle, we, as a country, rarely take that conversation about education beyond “our students deserve better.” As true as this may be, we are not going to be able to transform the quality of education our students receive until we give candidates’ education policy platforms the same scrutiny as we do so many other issues.
Debate after debate there’s been little more than a fleeting mention of how to improve schools. I get it. Unlike other policy areas that divide neatly along party lines, education is messier and more complicated.
Rather than focusing on what divides us, candidates for office must come to recognize that improving our education system is a priority that has the power to unite diverse and powerful groups of voters and organizations. Education is an issue that deserves to be prioritized as an issue worthy of all our channels of communication: from the water cooler to social media to the dinner table and especially the presidential debates.
Let me suggest a good jumping off point for this national conversation on education: Last week, President Obama released his proposed budget for 2017. Reflecting his educational priorities, the education budget included a bold proposal to allocate $1 billion to attract and retain effective teachers and school leaders in our highest-need schools.
As an experienced educator who now works on national education policy, I see supporting and elevating the teaching profession critical to improving education in the United States—and I know I’m not alone.
One aspect of the president’s budget request is the new “RESPECT: Best Job in the World” program which would provide more compensation and support for effective teachers in hard-to-staff schools. This kind of new funding would be a huge win for traditionally underserved students. It could help districts to transform teaching in high-poverty schools into a more prestigious role for effective educators.
But it is not enough for me nor for anyone else to sit in silent agreement over this proposal for funds that are far from becoming a reality unless congress takes action. It’s not enough for me to talk to my colleagues at Educators 4 Excellence, who work to involve teachers in the education policy process, or to the diverse set of partner organizations who make up Teach Strong, who have united to modernize and elevate the teaching profession.
It is my job—as a parent, a community member, a voter—and the job of anyone who cares about the state of education in America to invite the broader public into this conversation.
We all need to be talking about proposals like these and the challenges that our students, teachers, and schools face, not just at the PTA meeting, education conference, or at the Department of Education.
We also need to be talking with our neighbors and friends who work outside the education realm. Regardless of their particular line of work, this nation’s quality of education will impact their children, not to mention shape the next generation of educators, doctors, lawyers, architects and civic and political leaders.
We can’t force our political candidates to talk about their plans to improve education for our kids, but we can show them that we are listening, and if they want our votes, this is no longer a policy area they can afford to ignore.