Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Good schools have great teachers and involved parents. When I walk into our children’s school, it is swarming with parents; parents reading, parents making copies, parents tutoring, parents helping with crafts. Everywhere you look there are parents, parents, parents. In some ways, it might look like a civil defense drill, and possibly should be thought of as such. In fact, education is nothing less than a national security issue.

Given that, comments made last week by our commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, reminded me that he lives in a different world than most of us. "My children's school was canceled today. Because of what? Some ice?" he said. What was not mentioned was that his children attend Sidwell Friends, a private school. A call to the public school system in Washington revealed that they were open that same day.

”D.C. Public Schools’ first priority is to open schools to fulfill our obligation to educate our students whenever possible,” according to Jennifer Calloway, assistant press secretary of the District of Columbia Public School System, in a written statement. “We remain sensitive to the needs of families who are not able to arrange childcare when schools must unexpectedly close and the children who depend on a healthy meal from DCPS.”

The D.C. public school system, which serves 46,000 students, has some of that flinty Chicago toughness the president mentioned in regards to braving bad weather. If his daughters had been enrolled in public school, they would have had the opportunity to brave the elements and attend school that day.

When Obama moved into the White House, his children transferred from one private school, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where tuition for grades 1 – 4 is more than $18,000 per year, to Sidwell Friends School, where the tuition exceeds $28,000 per year. Millions of children do not have this opportunity.

Public school performance is indeed a national security issue. The Hart-Rudman Commission identified the nation’s failure in math and science education as the second-biggest threat to our national security (with the first being proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism). The 2008 national graduation rate from public high schools was an alarming low 70 percent. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, “approximately 1.2 million students-that's 7,000 every school day-do not graduate from high school on time.” Whites and Asians graduate at higher rates than do African Americans and Hispanics.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.