With all of the partisan fighting going on in Washington, it can sometimes be lost on us all that the real fight is for the future our nation. Our children are our most precious resource, and there is no better time than right now to rededicate ourselves to their success as they start a new school year. I’m hearing from more and more folks who are worried that our children are going to be the first to face a future where they’re no better off than the generation before them. This is unacceptable. It means the American Dream is in peril.
I’m your Congressman, but I’m also a father and a former teacher. I worry about our children’s future. I’ve said before that there are times I think this generation coming up has it too easy. They don’t remember a time without cell phones, bottled water or air conditioning. But we need to remember that young people also have pressures that our generation never faced. Too many of them don’t get enough exercise because they sit in front of televisions and computers. Too many rarely have meals as a family, often because their parents are working multiple jobs just trying to make ends meet and are exhausted when they get home.
Too many of our young people are exposed to drugs and alcohol at younger and younger ages. They face high-stakes standardized tests and are told that they and their schools are failures if all don’t do well. They live in a post-9/11 world with no real memory of what life was like before, and see nothing but political bickering and name calling if they watch the news. Some of these things we can try to improve as a country, some we must leave to families, and some are part of our world now and cannot be changed.
No Child Left Behind isn’t working, and I was pleased when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that states could apply for a waiver to be exempted from the No Child Left Behind bureaucracy, setting up their own systems that meet local needs. I’m happy that, in May, North Carolina was awarded a waiver to use our own guidelines to assess student success and not have it all be tied to teaching to tests, which does nothing to truly educate children. I know there are people who think standardized tests are the way to create accountability. I strongly disagree.
Of course we need standards as a nation, but we must also recognize that we need local control of our schools and, most importantly, that every student is an individual and must be treated as such. No Child Left Behind rates students on a one-to-four scale with four being best. A student who goes from a one to a two may have made much more improvement than a student who goes from a three to a four. No Child Left Behind has no way to acknowledge the progress made by the student who made it from one to two or the work of the teacher who helped that student improve. That is wrong. That student is not a failure and should not be labeled as such.
When we leave education decisions to local officials and families, we see much greater success in meeting the needs of students. In no area is that more clear than in our state’s highly successful community college system and the rise in early colleges. Early college high schools throughout our state, including many in our district, allow students to pursue an in-depth curriculum that provides them with not only a four-year high school diploma but also a two year associate’s degree.
Our community colleges help offer affordable access to higher education, preparation for the work force, and provide workers with training and retraining that helps keep us at the forefront of new and growing industries. We’ve seen our community colleges partner with local businesses and industries to create jobs and prepare the regional workforce to fill those jobs. When we administer and provide for students at local levels, we are able to better meet their needs and prepare them for life.
I’ve always believed that education serves as the great equalizer, providing opportunity for our citizens. When we focus education funding and attention on local needs, we create local opportunity — it’s that simple. Washington has no place making blind decisions that affect the future of our students; those decisions are better made by the people who best know our needs.
As the children in your life head back to school, remember that the more time Washington spends arguing and bickering, the less time is spent on what is truly important — the future of our great nation. Together, we can hold people in Washington accountable and make them understand that we demand they stop their endless squabbling and get back to work helping the American people restore our nation to prosperity.