Is it worth investing in education?

A 2017 Institute of Education Sciences report labeled some of the school improvement models mandated under ESEA as ineffective. So, does this mean we need to stop trying to grow our knowledge on how to improve chronically underperforming schools? Do we need to stop investing in education and let market forces dictate how our educational system will operate? My answer is no.

Consider the following:

  • What parents of a special needs student would not work hours assisting the teachers to implement a home/school strategy that would assist their child to make academic progress?
  • What caring teacher would not sacrifice a day’s pay in order to reach a struggling student through a new research-based instructional strategy?

In all the smoke that is out there, what I don’t clearly see are leaders calling for continuing investment in public education. Yet this country has a rich history where national leadership from both Republicans and Democrats made a difference that spurred educational growth. Under President Eisenhower, the National Defense Education bill was enacted that both increased the federal investment in math and science education and created the National Student Loan program providing low interest loans to the increasing number of students pursuing a college education.

President Kennedy inspired the country with the goal to land a man on the moon, resulting in greater support for science and mathematics education. President Johnson delivered the largest federal investment in education with the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). By creating a safety net for educationally underserved populations, ESEA helped to equalize educational financial resources between wealthy and poor school districts. Under President Reagan, the report “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform,” virtually put every state onto a “fast track” effort to strengthen their educational programs.

Secretary DeVos rightly speaks of the role of parents to chart the educational pathway for their children. As a parent, I certainly wanted the best for my children when they were in school and I tried my best to be involved in their education—as most parents do. I was, however, dependent on the expertise and knowledge of the teachers and school leaders. Education is not a static activity and must be responsive to the rapid growth of knowledge. That takes funding.

It makes sense to continually invest in education for a multitude of reasons:

  • For our economy. An abundance of stories point to the need to strengthen STEM preparation of students to meet America’s need for a workforce prepared to succeed in an ever changing technological environment.
  • For our well-being. Education informs the choices we make about how we live our lives, choices that affect our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
  • For our democratic society. Education informs each citizen’s decisions, which impact our political, social and economic structures. Ignorance is not bliss.
  • For the growth of knowledge. Every effective industry invests in research to help ensure its future. Not investing in ways to ensure that all students are college and career ready dooms a portion of our citizenry to a cycle of poverty.

What we need now is strong leadership—political leadership that understands the value of investing in education and educational leadership that keeps the focus on policies, programs and research that help all students succeed. The point is not how education is structured but how it serves the needs of students.

The federal government needs to assert its educational leadership role. Investing in the future of our country is too important not to do so.