“Improved Education at Core of Rich Future” from the Albuquerque Journal

George W. Bush’s educational program is a radical shift in the nation’s paradigm.

Traditionally, students were either tracked into college-bound or non-college-bound courses of study. Or they dropped out.

Tracking was generally done in middle school or in the freshman year of senior high school. By age 12 to 14, students’ lifetime occupations and economic future have been determined. Within certain parameters, college-bound students became high-income workers while all others were designated “low-income.”

Students who left school before graduation weren’t even considered in the earnings equation.

In 1900, the dropout rate was 90 percent. But back then, they were absorbed into the economy. Today’s dropouts have no such luxury. And dropouts are not the only ones who suffer.

Dropouts today are more likely to:

  • Go to prison;
  • Be on welfare;
  • Commit crimes; and
  • Be single parents.

The Student Dropout Prevention and Recovery Act 2001 (H.R. 620) is winding its way through the long legislative process.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., is co-sponsored by 16 representatives, including Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. It identifies 15 strategies designed to eliminate school dropouts.

The strategies are drawn from a book, which I wrote with Jay Smink, executive director of the National Dropout Prevention Center based at Clemson University. Dr. Smink is recognized as one of America’s experts on school dropouts.

The 15 strategies (family involvement, early childhood education, reading and writing programs, mentoring, service learning, alternative schooling, out-of-school enhancements, continuing training, multiple learning styles, use of instructional technologies, systemic renewal, community collaboration, career education, work-force readiness, and violence prevention) are research-based and data-developed.

In America’s desire to raise educational standards, improve teacher training, increase educational assessments and change the educational environment, we are fixing the schools for those who remain with little consideration for those who are potential dropouts.

The 15 effective strategies place an enormous burden on schools, educators, parents, colleges, schools of education, politicians and business people as well. But it is a burden that can be borne more easily if all those who have an interest in the success of our schools share it.

The key to economic development is public education.

If you look at the problems facing America “” welfare, health costs, taxes and crime = you find at the very core education. You cannot solve any of these societal problems without starting at the core, and by improving education you begin the process of reforming the other systems.

Education is America’s great equalizer: It allows for a shrinking of the economic stratification in American society by allowing individuals a means of moving up in society.

The ability of children to get a better education than their parents has always paved the way toward upward mobility. The key to a vibrant economic future is to improve our entire educational system.

One thing is abundantly clear “” America will never reach the pinnacle of its capabilities so long as it tolerates a public school system that is not functioning to its fullest potential.

By Franklin P. Schargel, Guest Commentary. This article originally appeared on September 6, 2001 as a “From the Executive’s Desk” article in the Outlook Section of the Albuquerque Journal.