As a Chicago Public Schools graduate, I have witnessed firsthand what inequitable education looks like, but also the ability of schools to act as a positive force for change in their communities. During my time working at a nonprofit focusing on national college persistence, it was evident that the work people are doing on the ground to close wealth and racial achievement gaps in education are not enough. The system is fundamentally flawed and fails our students at a cost to our entire community. It is time to make the dream of public education in America as a positive force for change and a gateway of opportunity a reality for all students.
We need to:
Guarantee universal pre-K. Investing in universal pre-K could prove to be one of the most beneficial policies in American history. Research shows that for every $1 spent on pre-K, society receives an $8.60 return on investment. The first district is filled with working class families who don’t have the ability or time to be able to send their kids to expensive pre-Ks. We need to invest in early education at the federal level in order to invest in the generation of tomorrow.
Reform our public school funding model. The inequitable funding structure of our public school system needs to be either replaced or supplemented. Because we tie local property taxes to education funding, richer, more developed areas receive more funding for public schools, making the system inherently inequitable. We need federal intervention to stop this practice and make sure that children, no matter their background, receive the same quality of education throughout the country.
End our reliance on standardized testing. This incredibly expensive method of performance evaluation is riddled with flaws and discrimination, takes away from real classroom time, burdens teachers, and is ultimately an ineffective indicator of classroom success or intelligence. Scores are undeniably tied to wealth and race and higher-earning parents can simply pay for expensive preparation for their children to manufacture higher test scores. Creating a commission of experts tasked with designing, identifying, and recommending different performance based evaluations is a viable path forward, as we begin to phase out traditional standardized testing.
End the performance based funding incentives that exist at the federal level. Federal policy expanding our reliance on standardized testing and introducing competition into public schools has failed immensely. We must call for an end to the practice of attaching performance based incentives to grants. It is misguided and counterproductive. Schools need to be evaluated holistically.
Establish a minimum salary for teachers. Throughout most of the country, teachers are criminally underpaid. To improve the quality of our education system, we need to make sure we pay our teachers what they deserve.
Provide access to federal grants for civic and financial literacy education. Incentivizing the implementation of civic and financial literacy programs with federal grants will help ensure that our students can develop the life skills needed to be able to succeed and become active participants in our democracy.
Implement restorative justice practices in all public schools. Punitive measures in schools such as detentions, suspensions, and expulsions are not effective at minimizing the problems they are supposed to address. Black and brown students are disproportionately impacted by these measures. Instead of this approach, schools need to create real safety that focuses on the restoration of relationships harmed.
Create a college tuition waiver for all low and middle income students and expand access to technical training programs. College is the ultimate mechanism for increasing social mobility. College graduates make on average more money and have higher promotion rates. Income should not be a barrier to entry for any student who wants to go to college. We also need to recognize that not everybody wants to go to college, so let’s make sure that people have the opportunity to explore other avenues and career options by expanding access to technical training programs.
Drastically lower federal student loan interest rates and make sure they are only raised to keep up with inflation. In order to combat crippling student loan debt, we need to make sure federal student loan interest rates are low and manageable for all Americans.
Increase loan forgiveness for those going into social-impact industries. This will incentivize people to go to work for the social good and help people overcome the burdensome cost of higher education.