Thomas Jefferson once wrote to Virginian judge and law professor George Wythe, “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness.” His belief in the importance of education inspired him to found the University of Virginia. George Washington also advised in his farewell address, “Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institution for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that the public opinion should be enlightened.”
Like these Founding Fathers, I also believe in the importance of education and believe that we invest far too little in the education of our youth. However, I believe this is a duty that belongs primarily to the states, as the Constitution does not give the federal government the authority to educate the people.
I think the role of the US Department of Education directly plays in schools needs to be reduced. It should not require the administering of standardized testing, and school funding certainly should not be dependent on standardized test scores.
To ensure the employability of graduates in one state in other states, as well as to ensure their chances to attend colleges out-of-state, we do need some sort of national standard. Rather than having this standard being decided and enforced by the Department of Education, I propose an accreditation system, similar to college. Professional industry associations, to include education professionals, should be tasked with accrediting schools to ensure kids are learning the necessary skills to be successful.
The main role of the US Department of Education should be to publish research and recommendations on different topics. It can examine various education models from various states and other countries and provide information on the pros and cons of different systems. It can do research into teacher salaries and performance-based teacher evaluations. It can look into the effects of nutrition on educational development, among other things. The Department of Education can become a forum where states can gather the information they need to implement the best education system possible to meet their needs.
One important area of emphasis will be ways to help children to get better support and more interest in their education at home. The school can only do so much if the child lives in an environment that is detrimental to education. We must also make post-secondary education more affordable. The federal government pays out $150 billion a year in loans. Combined student debt is now more than $1 trillion. Half of that is not being repaid. As of June 2013, more than 7 million Americans were in default on student loan debts. We need to make sure that education becomes more affordable, and that the government is making good investments in people who will finish school and be able to pay the debt back.
Along with making good investments, we also need to examine the accreditation system to make sure poor investments are not being made in programs that have unusually low employment rates after graduation.
We also need to promote the idea that college is not for everyone. We need more investment in trade schools and apprenticeship programs to help people to learn skilled trades.
Outside of the Department of Education, we can re-evaluate public housing policies to increase mobility for those who are struggling. This can help their children to get into a more advantageous learning environment, not only during the school day, as school vouchers can help to do, but also before and after school.