Quality public education should be the number one issue of our time, and the president the next four years should be leading the effort to create a public school system in America second to none. Nation building at home must be the mantra, and it needs to begin with our children.
At 6pm tonight at Hofstra University, the second Presidential Debate of 2012 will take place. Debate moderator Candy Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent, will introduce the candidates for a Town Hall meeting format. The stakes for the two candidates are huge, especially for the incumbent.
Either candidate could score points if they raise the issue of quality public education from preschool through grade 16. But each candidate should have specific suggestions on how to come closer to the top public education model enjoyed in Finland.
I wish I could be there to ask a question, but the audience is suppose to be made up of undecided voters, and I have already made up my mind. However, if I were there I would ask a question about education, which intertwines with every other major issue. National security, economic growth, quality of life, reducing crime, increasing GDP, innovation, and health care are all related to the preschool through 16 grade public education system, which is currently at risk.
My question: “Mr. President, Many studies in the last few years have pointed to the importance of the teacher’s role in creating equity in opportunity for all students at the highest of achievement levels. In Redwood City last month I heard your Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, say that the teacher preparation pipeline system in America is badly broken. If reelected, what would you do in order to fix it and ensure that all children, no matter where they live or the color of their skin, has a highly skilled and talented teacher in their classrooms?”
And a question for Gov. Mitt Romney: “Mr. Governor, in the October 2012 newsletter by the UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools, Program and Policy Analysis, it is asserted that ‘…society needs to recruit and retain a substantially greater proportion of the best and the brightest college graduates as career teachers and student support staff.’ What would you do as President to ensure that this long range goal becomes a reality by the end of your second term?”
I would not expect much of a comprehensive answer from either candidate. For too long the political system on the national level neglects to pay proper attention to public education. Therefore, we have initiatives like Race to the Top from 2009 that put, as some say, the failed national policies of No Child Left Behind on steroids.
If I had a follow-up question I would zero in on the local scene in Silicon Valley:
“President Obama and Gov. Romney, you both know about the Rocketship Education Charter Management Organization and the success of the blending learning model, parent involvement and longer school day begun in San Jose, CA.
“In Santa Clara County, the county school board has approved 25 Rocketships. Their CEO John Danner says he could not have the level of success experienced with student test results without the Teach For America Program. Roughly 80 percent of Rocketship’s teachers are from TFA. The vast preponderance of Rocketship’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch and are English Language Learners. As you both know, TFA recruits the top tier of graduates from mostly Ivy League Universities to teach for a minimum of two years—usually these are not your career teachers.
“In addition, Summit Charter School, one of their first schools in Redwood City was featured in ‘Waiting For Superman,’ and it has 30-50 percent of its teachers recruited directly from the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP). These are usually career teachers. Therefore, I have concluded that if the teacher preparation pipeline is broken in America it is broken in Silicon Valley and we must fix it now. Any ideas for us locally?
“And lastly, Mr. President and Gov. Romney, how would you support reforming state teacher tenure laws and last hired, first fired collective bargaining precepts?”
Perhaps when this column is published someone can send it over to Candy Crowley before the debate. With a thoughtful response to one of these questions, I might even be persuaded to vote differently than my current decision. For me, no issue is more important today than the quality of our public education system.
Joseph Di Salvo is president of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a native of San Jose.