If “public” education were a patient in the hospital, it would be on life support with a team of expert doctors conversing about its next procedure. During this quadrennial presidential election year we once again have a unique opportunity to frame the issue in ways that demonstrate care for the struggling patient. The conversation on next steps must involve the two presidential contenders, Mitt Romney and President Obama.
Dr. Francis W. Peabody closed a lecture at his medical school course at Harvard on Oct. 21, 1925, with the following phrase, “…for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.” That is the exact opposite of what Governor Romney proclaimed in his “A Chance For Every Child” white paper released last week. The plan is subtitled “Mitt Romney’s Plan for Restoring the Promise of American Education.”
The forward is by Jeb Bush. I fully agree with former Gov. Bush when he writes, “…the shortcomings of the American educational system are most devastating for minorities and the poor. Our ability to meet these challenges will determine not only the success of our economy, but our very future as a democracy.” But the path Romney and Bush advocate to deal with its shortcomings will cause the patient to flat line and the country to disintegrate into a fallen superpower status by the middle of this century.
The pro-choice and pro-voucher agenda will continue to weaken the ill patient. The white paper never mentions the one thing that helps students, quality early childhood education. We must discuss the need the $600 billion spent each year on this nation’s defense budget compared to the $25 billion that goes to our federal education budget for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/NCLB). The nation’s HeadStart early childhood education budget only funds 50 percent of those who qualify with a family income of less than $25,000 a year for a family of four.
You might remember that four years ago there was a national initiative called “Ed in ’08.” Billionaires Eli Broad and Bill Gates spent more than $60 million to make public education the top issue to be addressed in the presidential race. Needless to say, the effort was a flop. Each presidential debate was lucky to have one question directed at public education. And four years later, we have continued to place the number one issue of our time, the severest national security issue America has ever faced, low on the totem pole.
The political leaders of this country must elevate public education to the most pressing issue of the day. It deserves national discourse commensurate with our predilection to wage war and fight terror. The 34-page White Paper placed online last week by the Romney For President team deserves its time in the sun for all of us to see and dissect. President Obama’s Race to The Top effort has paid some dividends for improving schools and student achievement, but its major tenets should be debated on the highest of levels, too.
I appeal to the Commission on Presidential Debates to focus the Oct. 16 debate at Hofstra University on public education age 0-22—including early childhood, K-12, and community colleges through university education. The vital signs of public education as a patient will be vastly improved by the attention and focus.
“Our education system is crucial to the vibrancy of our society, the strength of our economy, and the future of our children,” Romney’s white paper says in its one-page conclusion.
If Romney truly believes this, American education must then become the focus of this year’s presidential election. Doing so would show America cares for its patient.