Rhonda J. Summey, Ed.D.

Joblessness, hopelessness and a lifetime dependency on the government—this is what Condoleezza Rice said would result if the current issues surrounding public education were not addressed.  In her speech, at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week, Rice took just a moment to speak on the ills of public education. However, as the RNC comes to a close and the Democratic National Convention is in full-swing in Charlotte, the questions of where education is in the 2012 race continue to surface.

What a coincidence that the beginning of the school year, in many cities, coincides with both conventions. Indeed, there has been very little discussion regarding education outside of the few words from Dr. Rice at the RNC and an address by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the DNC. This is the first time in recent months that we have seen education elevated to a place where it should be — on the actual agenda of both political parties.

As we begin a new school year, educators brace for the numerous challenges that must be endured.  While many school systems have fewer teachers, and even fewer of those hired are truly highly qualified, schools are expected to do the same or more with a leaner school budget.  With this fact, we must necessarily face the bleak reality that poorly-trained teachers cannot prepare a generation of students who must compete on a global scale.

The College Board, a leader in education advocacy, has clearly expressed its expectation that public education should be a focus in the dialogue between the presidential candidates.  According to Peter Kauffmann, the College Board’s communication chief, education has yet to be a tier one issue on the campaign trail.  But that proclamation doesn’t make much sense because as Kauffmann goes on to say, “Education is the foundation of our economy, national security, and if we don’t get that right, everything begins to crumble.”  Thank you, Mr. Kauffmann.  You may have seen a cute little t-shirt that says, “Without a teacher, no other profession would be possible.”  This sentiment is not just a slogan to get educators excited for a new school year, but something more far-reaching and far more ominous.

While educators wait on politicians to bring the discussion of American public education and its impact on our society and the world community to the national stage, teachers and administrators forge ahead with what little they have.  Further, they wait with optimistic hope that the politicians they elect will create lasting changes that will repair the damage that years of apathy and neglect have caused.  Educators do seem to appreciate that Dr. Rice, unlike many other politicians, took the time to briefly mention public education and its abysmal state in her address. The former Secretary of State and current educator even went on to place education among other civil rights.  However, while she says a good education is a civil right, where are the candidates in making this a reality or at least starting the discussion? We know it’s the economy stupid, but what is the economy without education?

Education—the kind that nurtures and prepares our children— needs to be at the forefront of this election because truly, we can no longer afford the contrary.

Rhonda J. Summey, Ed.D. is an educator in the Prince Georges County School system. She holds education degrees from Northwestern University, Harvard University and George Washington University. 

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  1. Well said, Dr. Summey. As President Clinton pointed out, the US is falling behind in education. It seems that the importance of education does not resonate with people. Education produces thinkers, innovators and the like who will stimulate the economy.

    • One thing that Condoleeza Rice said that I surely agree with is education is a civil right and should be treated as such. Until everyone truly has access to an education that provides the best training to be a learned member of society, then we all will suffer.

      • So, after the presidential candidates place the education of our children on the top tier of the political totem pole, will that close the achievement gap, ensure that every third grader, especially African American males are on grade level or increase the high school graduation rates? During the one-room school house era, maybe, it was less complicated to identify then improve the mal-functions within a school system. But, society has developed and expanded and what was once simpler has grown more complicated. Is it enough for American citizens to sit back and just listen to presidential candidates speak on the topic of education? Will the contents of the messages from the Democratic and Republic party representative improve the quality of education? Will the opinions of these well-meaning scholars enable failing school systems to duplicate the features of more effective school systems? Will the passionate declarations of two citizens determined to sit in the White House motivate college presidents to ensure that only caring, committed, competent graduates are conferred with degrees in education? Will the sincere cries of a president-to-be stir up the conscience and imagination of each adult to invest in the children within his or her respective community? Will the heartfelt promises of the 2012 president elect direct only qualified educators anointed with the teaching and leadership spirits of Anne Sullivan, Mary Mcleod Bethune or Marva Collins to enter American schools? It has been stated before that the quality of education of American children lies not in the hands of the presidential candidate but in the hearts of the citizens.

  2. I think a failing public education system is more lucrative for some political leaders. It provides an issue to mention vaguely when you want to connect w/ parents, and for some of their donors, it provides validation for dismantling and privatizing the system to a more profitable model. Lastly, I think, like healthcare, it would take a “drastic” shift to improve our educational system and most politicians are too lazy, too partisan, too afraid and too unfamiliar with the topic to implement new ideas. They would prefer to pass the buck on to private shareholders.

    • Jelly Jam And that is why I feel some kind of way about charter schools. I know what they were created to do but I also know what that means for the traditional public school. Why pull money away to create something else when you can invest in the system you currently have? That tells me they know we have a broken down car but rather than put the money in what we have, let’s invest our money in something brand new.

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