Dear Secretary DeVos:
Since our country was founded, Americans have lived in search of opportunity and success— the American Dream. According to former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, “The essence of America – that which really unites us – is not ethnicity, or nationality, or religion – it is an idea – and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things.” And what better path is there to come from nothing and achieve everything than education, the great equalizer.
Although our system of education has greatly improved, we still have a ways to go before this American Dream can be achieved by everyone. In the U.S., there is a significant achievement gap between white students and minority students that has barely been narrowed over the last 50 years. These students, many from underserved communities, deserve equal opportunities to ensure their success in our nation. Another flaw in U.S. education is the lack of respect for the teaching profession; there simply isn’t enough incentive for our youth to become educators. In comparison to teachers in many of the world’s leading countries in education, American teachers, on average, work longer hours, get paid less, and aren’t held in as high esteem. We need to attract more students to teaching if we want our education system to continue to prosper.
These issues need to be addressed, and there are multiple ways of doing so. Obviously, increased spending for education would help support the cause, but it is important to see that money is not the only path towards a better system. The solutions to these problems are deeper, stemming from societal issues that need to be brought to the forefront. In order to bridge the achievement gap, we have to view diversity as an asset, not a disadvantage. Providing an individualized approach to learning and setting expectations higher for all students and teachers alike will help ensure that students have the same opportunity for success. Raising the bar for students can be achieved by pushing them with harder classwork, encouraging a cooperative learning environment, and allowing multiple skills sets to come through. Raising the bar for teachers would be a more complex, but very beneficial change. In Finland, one of the world’s leaders and innovators in education, teaching is one of the most honorable professions you can hold. According to a report by Dr. Steven Paine, a nationally renowned American educator, “countries that have been most successful in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so by offering teachers real career prospects and more responsibility as professionals — encouraging them to become leaders of educational reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just deliverers of the curriculum.” If we can provide more of our youth with dreams to become educators in the sense that Paine described, they will translate this motivation into future students’ achievement.
Education is key to the American Dream and adjusting the way that we look at it will help ensure that more kids will graduate and want to continue to educate themselves for the rest of their lives.