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Education Reform Cannot Wait

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The time for real change and big ideas in the education arena is now. We can no longer afford to sit idle while a generation of Americans receive a second class education from a first class country. It is unfathomable that in the wealthiest country in the world our minority and low income communities have limited educational opportunities. There are some statistics that are hard to ignore and one that bleeds each time is this; of the nation’s 20,000 high schools, 2,000 are responsible for nearly half of the dropouts. If you are one of our nation’s black families you have a 50% chance of sending one of your children to one of these schools. This is not a partisan issue or a political issue but an issue which centers on the fundamental American belief that opportunity is not relegated to those winning the zip code lottery.

We can all agree that improvements can and should be made in our education system. Our system has been progressively moving towards a top-down, overly bureaucratic model which allocates funds based on models divorced from student results. We have doubled per-student funding over the past five decades and have seen virtually no noticeable improvement in test scores. These sad numbers belie the fact that bureaucratic top-down models have a sad history of failure and those who defend them are typically the very bureaucrats whose power is enhanced as a result of them.

I propose that the answers are in front of us if we are bold enough to accept them and put down our rhetorical arms in this ideological battle. We can make bold changes now by moving to a system where the parent and child, rather than a zip code, becomes the center of our education universe. Choice in educational facilities has enabled our university system to become the envy of the world, regardless of the zip code the facility is located in. Choice has the potential to rewrite our education future and redefine educational excellence. It is unfortunate that the arguments used to refute this simple proposition strain credulity. Stating that taxpayers should fund public education and yet be ordered where to send their children to school, regardless of the school’s record of success or their personal choice, is un-American at its core.

Local implementation of means-tested voucher based programs would revolutionize our education system with the real winners being American children. Successful schools and excellent teachers would be rewarded with increased demand for their services. Funding would follow as it would be attached to the child and not to the zip code. Schools which fail to attract students due to their inability to produce results would then be subjected to charter takeover. This process will ensure that competition creates a vibrant educational environment for all of our children and failure is no longer sugar coated. From a federal perspective, we can set an example by fully supporting these initiatives in Washington DC.

While engaging in a healthy debate about education change, I want to emphasize that I owe my success to caring, dedicated teachers who rescued me from poverty. Teachers are not now, and have never been, the problem. They are the bedrock of our society and I refuse to believe that any teacher arrives at their schools in the morning without sincerely trying to better the lives of the students they serve. The fault lies with the system we have cornered them into and that should be the focus of our change initiatives. As world economic growth and productivity enhancements transition global economies to ideas-based models, it is imperative that we implement bold changes. It is time to leave behind partisan politics, ideological agendas, and vested interests and put our children, and their futures first.

In conclusion, we can no longer forfeit our minority and low income communities in the world-wide education race for ideas. These children are entitled to a chance at the American dream. We will never know how many transformational ideas could have been launched from communities left out of our collective American dream as a result of educational disparities. The reservoir of ideas being left behind in these communities is a travesty from both a moral and economic perspective and I will make it a centerpiece of my pro-growth plan for economic revitalization.

(Originally published in USATodayEducation.com, January 12, 2012)

Dan Bongino is a Republican Candidate for U.S. Senate from the state of Maryland. He is a decorated Secret Service Agent who served under three presidential administrations, and was the lead security representative for the United States for foreign presidential visits.  Dan is a small business entrepreneur who has obtained graduate degrees in both Psychology and Business Administration. His wife Paula is a first generation immigrant and a successful business owner. Dan and Paula have two children, 8 year old Isabel and newborn Amelia.

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