Congressman Polis uses his business background, education policy knowledge and school leadership experience to work with his colleagues to enact meaningful education reform. He believes that building an excellent public education system that provides each and every child with the opportunity to succeed is the best possible investment in America’s future. In order for our nation to thrive in a global economy, America needs to prepare our children with the skills and knowledge necessary to compete and succeed.
Education reform, from preschool through college, must be at the top of the nation’s policy agenda. We need an entrepreneurial approach to solving the pressing problems facing public schools tied with increased investment. Outdated systems that stifle innovation must be tackled head-on. With bold ideas and decisive action, we can ensure America’s long-term prosperity and launch a new era of innovation and progress.
Early Childhood Education
The first years are the most critical for a child’s development, both cognitively and emotionally. Studies have confirmed that serious academic underperformance and behavioral problems, which often appear later in life, could be largely prevented by quality early childhood education.
Universal access to preschool and other early childhood education programs would improve the educational outcomes and achievement of all children, while saving taxpayers billions that are currently spent addressing the many negative consequences of a poor education: including criminal and unhealthy behavior, lower productivity and earnings, and remedial services.
To put this in perspective, for every dollar we invest in quality early childhood education programs, the estimated return ranges from $7-10. If human capital investments are the key to the future, then investment in early childhood education is the best and safest approach for realizing the highest returns possible.
Despite the large and ever-expanding body of research confirming the multiple benefits of quality early childhood education, federal policy and budget undervalues it. Head Start and Early Head Start have been severely underfunded, reaching only a small percentage of low-income eligible children, infants and toddlers. State preschool programs offer only a limited number of slots and are unable to meet demand. Quality child care is beyond reach for millions of working families and is fast becoming an unbearable financial burden for the middle class.
Clearly, if America is to create a world-class education system in this country, we need to reverse course and make massive investments that will move us closer to universal access. This will require unprecedented cooperation and partnership between federal and state governments, private and public sectors, employers and employees, and preschools, colleges and universities. A quality early childhood education requires a highly-trained workforce of professionals, financial incentives and resources, and a broadly shared commitment to making it a national priority.
Education starts at home. Again, research demonstrates that parental involvement and engagement is critical for a child’s success in school and in life. No matter how busy, parents must make the time, as this is their primary parental responsibility. Many parents lack the knowledge and basic skills necessary to have a positive influence in their children’s lives. Whether they are illiterate, lack a formal education, or face language barriers, these parents need our help. Government and the private sector have an important role to play by encouraging and implementing family-friendly policies that reflect our shared responsibility to children.
In recent years, our nation has lost ground in the global education race. This unfortunate trend has been developing since the 1980s, as documented by the 1983 “A Nation At Risk” report, which warned that “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” A quarter-century later, we find ourselves still lagging, still struggling to find ways to reverse this trend and reclaim our global leadership in education.
To create a truly world class education system, we must review the entire structure, build upon what works, and redesign what is not working. Members of Congress have an historic opportunity for reform. The reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act could signal the beginning of a new era of educational reform and excellence in America or it could limit our nation to the “business as usual” model. We simply cannot risk losing precious ground in our fight to close the gap in education and ensure that the next generation is well-equipped to compete and thrive in a globalized economy.
First, for any education reform to succeed, it must be adequately funded. Schools just cannot do more with less, especially if we want them to change their ways and serve all children, many of whom face significant educational barriers. More mandates and less funding is a recipe for failure. Funding is essential for reducing class sizes and hiring highly-trained teachers – two of the most critical factors for improving student learning.
Second, we cannot penalize schools for being unable to improve under a rigid “all or nothing” test-based model of accountability. We need to add flexibility, including student academic growth measures, and identify indicators of achievement beyond standardized test scores.
Third, we need to expand, not restrict, classroom options if schools are to teach students how to solve problems, think critically, and communicate well – the essential skills for both college and joining the workforce. This strategy is also central to dropout prevention efforts, which Congress, federal administrators, and state and local leaders must strengthen through research-proven policies.
Fourth, we must improve academic achievement outcomes for all students. This includes maintaining a focus on closing achievement gaps by demanding accountability from schools for improving the educational outcomes of low-income and minority students, while also providing educators with the tools and resources they need to achieve this goal. In addition to fully funding the government’s obligations, this means better teacher and principal preparation and professional development, meaningful educator evaluations, improved standards and assessments, comprehensive student services, performance incentives, student wellness and nutrition, and closing the digital divide both in schools and communities.
Finally, now is the time for us to embark on an ambitious nationwide effort that encourages, rewards and replicates successful educational models. We need innovation and new ways of thinking about and doing things. We must move beyond sterile debates and unleash educational entrepreneurship. We should take stock of what works and invest in making it available to kids in struggling schools throughout the country.
Each and every child has a unique set of skills and needs. We need to ensure that our school system is prepared to maximize their students’ skills and address their needs through differentiated learning methods. This is especially important for the millions of students who are at risk of dropping out of school and never realizing their full potential. Wasted talent is our nation’s biggest loss and competitive disadvantage. Effective charter schools, gifted and talented programs, online education, and inter- and intra-district public school choice, are among the many promising avenues of innovation and reform that we need to foster. We cannot allow any more children to be left behind.
Just as a high school diploma was necessary for getting a good job a generation ago, higher education, such as a college degree or vocational training, is more important than ever in today’s knowledge-based economy. However, inadequate preparation, skyrocketing tuition costs, and prohibitive college loan interest rates are preventing many students from accessing and succeeding in higher education.
A college education–whether at a four-year institution like the University of Colorado or Colorado State University or at community colleges like Front Range and Colorado Mountain College—must be within reach for all, regardless of economic background. This can be done through investing in federal financial aid grant programs and reforming federal tax credits by making them refundable and expanding them to offset costs other than tuition and fees (e.g., books, room and board, or transportation).
To open the doors of opportunity, we must also invest in college preparation and outreach programs in high schools for underrepresented student populations. We must support summer learning and college coursework in high schools through Advanced Placement and dual enrollment programs. By expanding support for such efforts, we can help make sure that all kids stay in school, graduate with a high school diploma, and are prepared to go to college or enter the workforce.
The future success of our nation hinges on technology education. By engaging the information technology community in developing and implementing innovative methods to improve postsecondary access and success, we can increase enrollment in science and technology, and engineering studies. We especially need to ensure that women, minorities and people with disabilities are represented in the field of information technology by highlighting role models and providing mentorship opportunities.
Many take for granted the ability to read and write, but an estimated 32 million adults – about one in seven – have such low literacy skills that they have trouble reading a children’s book and do not understand instructions used in everyday life, such as information on a medication bottle. As a result, an alarming number of adults cannot fully participate in work, family and community activities. Adult education and literacy programs, including English as a Second Language, play a key role in helping parents become involved in and supportive of their children's education and ensuring a trained workforce for our economy. To remain competitive, both as individuals and as a nation, we must do all that we can to eliminate illiteracy.
For more information on education, please contact Allie Kimmel in the Washington office. You can also visit Congressman Polis' Legislation Page or find information on bills and amendments that he’s cosponsored in Congress.