Today, Washington D.C. is so focused on expanding the size and influence of our federal government at the expense of taxpayers that they are overlooking one of the greatest security risks facing our nation -- our failing education system.
Our broken education system is failing America's children while countries around the world, our own global competitors, are making dramatic strides in educating their future work forces.
The consequences to this failure cannot be underestimated. A 2007 study from Columbia University revealed the scope of the consequences of simply failing to earn a high school diploma.
High school graduates are healthier and more productive. They are far less likely to be dependent on government social services. In tax dollars alone, a high school diploma translates into upwards of $150,000 in the lifetime contribution of one person. High school dropouts make up over 50 percent of state prison populations.
Across the board, the benefits from a well educated population are tangible and undeniable, and yet nearly three out of 10 American students now fail to graduate from high school.
Looking at the results coming out of our current education system, I cannot help but be deeply alarmed. As detailed in The New York Times, Congress heard testimony this week from education experts on the state, national and international levels as part of the culmination of a year-long effort by state leaders to establish new academic standards.
Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Directorate for Education, testified that, "Among OECD countries, only New Zealand, Spain, Turkey and Mexico now have lower high school completion rates than the U.S."
He went on to say that, "If the U.S. would raise the performance of schools by a similar amount, that could translate into a long-term economic value of over 40 trillion dollars."
The personal and economic benefits from a strong education system are clear. Moreover, in a global market, American students must compete in an increasingly educated, productive world. The moment we can no longer keep up, we will have surrendered our national prosperity and security.
In light of this, our country now faces a decision regarding the proposed standards, which encompass achievement goals in English and math from kindergarten through 12th grade. I am pleased that governors and local educators took the lead on his project, but it is my conviction that we must walk a careful line as we move forward in establishing protocols for our education.
Mr. Schleicher's testimony also revealed that most other successful countries, while utilizing national standards, give local schools a greater degree of freedom from regulation than the American system currently does.
So long as federal taxpayer money goes to schools across the country, the government is right to demand accountability and a return on the investment. But when federal control threatens to stifle the creativity and productivity of our local schools, we must step back and return power to our communities.
Our children's future, our country's future, must never be a political pawn in the government's all-too-familiar gambit for more control. We must equip our schools, our teachers and our children with all the resources they need to lead academically the way we know we can, the way we have done in the past. We must equip local school districts not only with financial resources but with an investment of trust and authority, so that our schools can focus on the business of education, not bureaucracy.
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- Michael Reagan, the elder son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is spokesperson for The Reagan Nation and chairman and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation (wwwreaganlegacyfoundation.org)