Given that the March 2015 public forum debate topic was on the guaranteeing of tuition to community colleges, I feel that I’ve researched enough to jot down my thoughts regarding the topic. I’m by no means an expert, so take this with a few grains of salt.
President Obama’s education policies primarily center on college, especially the ability to pay for college. He’s expanded on Pell Grants and tax credits for college students, advocated for government transparency with families and worked closely with state governments. These are good actions to solve bad problems, but the education system needs greater actions to solve worse problems. Obama’s focus on college is neglecting a major part of the education that needs help: the K-12 system.
Tens of millions of Americans won’t be able to access the magnificent greater education system that Obama is trying to establish because they don’t have the skills necessary for that system. Sixty-eight percent of community college students have to take at least one basic skills development class in order to enter community college, and many of those students quit. Obama’s key K-12 policy is the Race to the Top program, a program that provides money to states who satisfy criteria like STEM funding and hiring skilled teachers, yet that percentage of students who take development classes hasn’t changed. Obama’s policies also encourage standardized testing as a way to evaluate teachers, a 1.7 billion dollar annual cash magnet that causes the entire system to focus on what the tests want and not on what students actually need. And, at the same time that Obama talks about protecting STEM programs, he neglects the humanities programs that are often the first targets when the budget needs to be slashed.
The above is not an exhaustive list of the problems in the K-12 system, but hopefully I’ve highlighted enough to show that reforming colleges is just the tip of the iceberg. With the 2016 presidential election season starting to heat up, we Americans need to put the pressure on presidential hopefuls to do more regarding K-12 education, because right now, we’re being left behind in that elusive race to the top.