It is hardly a news flash that education plays an absolutely essential role in ensuring equality of opportunity. But we know that not all kids start from the same place when they enter school, and there remain wide disparities in the quality of education once they do, depending on where they live. This is particularly true for lower-income and disadvantaged communities where kids need it most.
We can do better, and while this is primarily a state and local government function, the federal government has a key part to play. I have one song, School of Rock from the eponymous movie, and one book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will by Geoff Colvin, to set the tone for this prong of the platform.
First off, the federal government can help make up for income disparities and promote good schools with the full panoply of necessary classes and programs through targeted funding.
There is no better investment than funding to help ensure that quality preschool opportunities are available to all kids, especially those who already start at a disadvantage. Study after study shows the critical role preschool plays in preparing kids to start off school on the right foot, and this is an investment that pays for itself many times over in both future success for kids who have the opportunity and future savings on other government services that otherwise would be necessary.
Federal funding also plays a key role in enabling schools in poorer areas (both urban and rural) to provide the necessary resources and supportive services for kids to succeed. This is true for all kids in disadvantaged areas and is particularly important to ensure children with disabilities get the appropriate education they are entitled to under federal law.
Lastly, schools should be one of the priorities in federal infrastructure funding, recognizing the key role schools play in promoting healthy communities throughout the country.
This funding collectively gives the federal government an opportunity to promote best practices throughout the country, in the following ways.
Promoting Best Practices in Curriculum and Teaching
Rather than the overly prescriptive regulations and funding conditions that are typical today, a better way to accomplish the goal of promoting best practices is to set higher level core standards and then give schools flexibility to meet them. This encourages innovation and local buy-in.
The concept of a “Common Core” curriculum is a critical one, but that should be done through broad standards for each of the core subject areas and then provide a lot of flexibility for how those subjects are taught to meet the standards.
Equally important, the curriculum needs to go beyond reading, writing, math, and science to include other key skills for citizenship and success in the modern world. Key areas that should also be given equal priority in the core curriculum include:
- Just one look at the state of our politics and discourse today is enough said.
- Key Life Skills
- Skills like empathy, critical thinking, relating to people who are different than us, collaboration, and conflict resolution already are proving crucial for success, and that will only become true as technology becomes a greater part of our lives.
- The book I noted at the outset of this post, “Humans Are Underrated,” explains this well and offers a great roadmap.
- History with a Clearer Eye
- The experience of 2020 brought overdue attention to our collective need to reckon with the real history of our country, good and bad.
- This is going to be a challenging and fraught conversation, and I suggest a special commission with diverse representation be formed to modernize our history curriculum so that we tell the story of our nation more accurately from all sides.
- This should not be a self-flagellation exercise; it should celebrate all that rightly makes us a great country without sugarcoating that we have done some very bad things along the way that did not live up to our ideals, slavery and racial injustice in particular. The struggle for a more perfect union is a constant and ongoing one that we all have a role in.
- Understanding and prioritizing wellness early on will have lifelong benefits.
- Knowing what we know about the relationship between physical health, mental health, and learning, we no longer can skimp on gym class, sports, the arts, and extracurricular activities.
Incidentally, most adults would benefit from this curriculum as well, if only we had the same leverage to require it!