June 18th, 2015 10:27 am

First Posted: 2/24/2015

Dear editor:

We are falling behind. The United States prides itself on standing as a beacon of opportunity for all, but bickers over the issues in our education system instead of realistically trying to solve them. The human mind is a tragic tool to waste, and we allow a goldmine of potential to slip away with disengaged students.

The United States as a whole falls short regarding academic standards. The Pearson Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment ranks the nation 14th, behind countries such as South Korea, Japan, Hong-Kong, and Canada. As the world becomes more globalized, American students compete among themselves and international students for the same jobs. An investment in education serves as an investment for all. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports budget cuts to education now weakens the current and future workforce. To preserve the well-being of the area, education must take priority in discussions on reform.

Preparing students to enter the workforce necessitates a competitive educational foundation, meaning tackling education issues needs to start at the local level. The latest available data from the US Census lists Pennsylvania as the 13th highest spender on education in the country. However, most funds come from local, not state, budgets, creating a larger spending gap between districts. The community partially determines how much funding education receives, and increasing their interest in student achievement proves necessary to ensure money is properly allocated so students reap the maximum amount of benefits. Policy makers and constituents blame a lack of funding for education on hard economic times, but holding out on the school system limits the ability for the area to prosper. A report by the RESULTS Education Fund explains, “A person’s earnings increase by 10 percent for each year of schooling they receive, translating to a one percent annual increase in GDP (gross domestic product) if good quality education is offered to the entire population.” To improve the economy in the short and long run, we need to invest in education now.

But money alone cannot solve the larger issues at hand. While competitive teacher salaries, improved classroom technologies, and newer books inevitably impact student learning abilities, simple steps taken by community members along with educator encouragement can propel students ahead without spending another dime. Students need to find an interest in their education and understand the “why” behind their lessons. Schools need to be held accountable by the taxpayers funding them for improving performance rates and for motivating students to learn. Communities need to express their support for students and take an interest in their course work.

Peaking student interest is no easy task, but it is not impossible. Professor Jennifer Steele of American University’s School of Education describes closing the achievement gap requires more than a quick fix solution stating, “There isn’t a magic bullet, but an effort to shine a light on school accountability is a promising step to illuminate where students are.” Professor Steele also explains a vital component to education needs to include better access to post-secondary education and employment opportunities. Teaching students about options for their future (and its dependence on academic performance) is a tool to entice children and teens to care about their classes. They need to learn they have more options than becoming a doctor, police officer, lawyer, or firefighter, as there are an infinite number career opportunities (or if they want to pursue one of those jobs, how to do so). Show them how to play with their interests at an earlier age, and how to turn those interests into potential careers. Tie together fields of study to demonstrate why a future microbiologist should take a literature class, and why a future public relations specialist needs to understand algebraic equations (because they do). Analyzing works of writing improves critical thinking skills necessary in all areas of study, and solving for “x” teaches students logical thinking processes to come to conclusions or work through problems.

The lack of attention given to enticing students as opposed to funding issues, teaching setbacks, and administrative hurdles, prevents real progress. While other road blocks impair students’ overall ability to achieve their maximum potential, the first step to moving forward requires getting participants in the educational system to care about what they learn. Some may argue, students ought to motivate themselves, and if they slack off, so be it. The real world is a complex network of people, and finding your way without adequate preparation is difficult. They need to learn from somewhere, and community support along with understanding opportunities begins to close the gap.

Excited students who ask to learn more gain the ability to surpass standards, make advances towards their futures, and demonstrate to higher officials that they are worth the investment. We as a community need to inspire students, and act as a guide for the children of today, who will in turn provide us with a more beautiful tomorrow. Those working with students must want to take the next step, which requires us to take an interest in their academic behavior, and encourage them to become well-rounded students. Get them involved in extracurricular activities, where they can develop skills in fitness, public speaking, leadership, and much more instead of cutting those programs down. Make school a second home. Show them why they are there. Teach them that they hold the potential to become anything they set their minds to, because they can.

Emma Ross

Waverly Township