Fixing our public education system is vital to our nation's economic and social survival. Our 234-year experiment with democracy will undoubtedly fail unless we focus on rebuilding and maintaining a strong public education system. All across the country, states face serious challenges in meeting educational funding needs. As I have traveled the 22 counties of Illinois'15th Congressional District, I have heard concerns from current and retired teachers. I will be a strong advocate for their ideas in Washington, D.C.
Problems in U.S. education
Our current status is unacceptable. The U.S. educational system was once considered the best in the world. Now reading tests nationally and in Illinois show a 25-year decline. Among adults aged 25-34, the U.S. ranks 11th in high school graduation rates for industrialized nations, according to a 2007 study. The total number of U.S. college graduates, second internationally in 1995, dropped to 14th in 2007, and 60th worldwide for natural sciences and engineering college graduates. Without a world-class education system, how can we compete in the world marketplace?
Since World War II, science and technology have fueled America's economic growth. Our public education system was designed to meet manufacturing needs of the Industrial Age. Many crucial problems presently challenge our country--sustainable energy and food production, climate change, economic stability, pollution, and disease--that affect our global standing and ultimate survival. To compete in today's Information Age, workers need a knowledge base of critical thinking skills, intellectual flexibility, adaptability, creativity, and technological literacy, in addition to reading, writing, math, and basic science.
A high school diploma is no longer enough. Capable young people should be able to afford college. Students needing financial assistance are falling behind because of skyrocketing college tuition and fees. Demand for Pell Grants--the federal government's largest non-loan aid program--has grown rapidly in recent years, but federal appropriations have not kept pace. The money we have spent on the misguided Iraq war alone would fund free college tuition for all eligible students over two generations.
Our children are our future
We need a highly educated populace to maintain America's leadership role in the world. Today's educators are undervalued, even as we expect them to teach our children essential skills to meet future challenges. Education is the critical ingredient of our nation's success and very survival.
We must provide essential funding for safe and healthy learning environments in our schools. Teachers' salaries should be raised to levels commensurate with the huge responsibility they bear. Parents and teachers need more direct input to our education system, rather than leaving curriculum design to administrators far removed from actual hands-on classroom experience.
We must leave behind the unfunded mandate, "No Child Left Behind," a plan with systemic flaws. It compels teachers to emphasize a narrow curriculum, leaving little room for bright students to excel and challenged students to get extra help. "No Child Left Behind" punishes already over-burdened schools by labeling them as "failing"--encouraging those who would abandon public education and fanning the flames of advocacy for public funding of private institutions. "No Child Left Behind" ignores the social causes of poor academic performance: poor housing, dislocation, unemployment, inadequate medical care and nutrition, and lack of infrastructure.
Fully funding education must be among the highest of our national priorities in the coming years. Federal stimulus money has temporarily cushioned the impact of the recession. When it runs out in fiscal year 2011, Congress will need to consider proper and sustainable funding levels to education.
As your Congressman, I will give deliberate thought to substantive educational improvement and not hide behind shallow slogans. I will seek to improve access to higher education by breaking down financial barriers and those created by substandard academic preparation, and I will rely on the advice of educators and parents to develop creative, efficient, and effective educational policies for Illinois and the nation.