How can we as a nation ensure every child has an opportunity to succeed, reach their full potential, and live the American Dream? Well, if you asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, I suspect he’d say we must first and foremost reform our broken public education system. Writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cantor argues that a quality education is the key to upward mobility and a better future for all Americans. And for far too long, he says, too many children have been denied this most “basic and fundamental opportunity”:
The goal of every parent in Virginia and across our nation is to provide greater opportunity for our children. The idea that each generation has it better than the last is woven into the fabric of our country. Yet, for the first time in our history, parents now fear whether this American promise will be realized for their children.
We must restore hope for a brighter future and we can start by focusing on education. A good education is the most basic and fundamental opportunity we owe each and every child. Yet, all too often we fail our children, especially those in low-income neighborhoods. Enough is enough.
Children cannot escape poverty if they cannot read or write. Young adults cannot prepare for college without access to dedicated teachers and administrators. And parents cannot ensure their children have it better than they did if they don’t have the opportunity to improve their children’s education.
One of the ways we can improve America’s education system is by embracing school choice. And we can do that, I think, by showing how charter schools are actually changing kids’ lives. Cantor gives two moving examples in his editorial:
To create education opportunity, we must start by replacing federal mandates and providing resources that will empower our parents and students. To hear from families impacted by current education policies, I visited several schools in Virginia’s 7th District — including one of the state’s few charter schools, Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts in Richmond. There I met Gwen Lewis, a retired Richmond Public Schools teacher who chose to remove her grandson, Terry, from his assigned public school and send him to Patrick Henry to pursue his interest in science.
Also at Patrick Henry, I met Kristen Larson, another parent and member of the Richmond School Board. Early on, Larson noticed her son Everett struggling like many young boys who would rather be outside exploring than sitting in a classroom. While Everett was keeping up with his peers in preschool, Larson felt he would excel in an environment that was more hands-on and project-based when he transitioned to elementary school. Fortunately, Larson had a choice. As a concerned parent, she was able to send Everett to Patrick Henry, where he will enter the third grade this fall. Everett has been afforded the opportunity to excel because of an education model that suits his individual needs as a student.
Lewis and Larson had the choice to send their children to a school with an educational environment that best suited their needs. Unfortunately, that option is not available to most parents across Virginia or America. When that choice is not available, many parents are left with one option — to send their children to underperforming, ill-equipped schools. The result is: Their kids fall further behind.
No one wants to see children fall behind in school, especially when there are viable ways to prevent this from happening. But the problem is too few children have the kind of opportunities that Lewis and Larson had. We often hear politicians talk about economic and social inequalities (which are very real and should not be trivialized) but I suspect if public schools performed at higher standards the other problems would begin fixing themselves. This is why education is so important. For instance, is it any wonder that in Detroit -- you know, that once great American metropolis that just declared bankruptcy -- almost half of the adult population is characterized as “functionally illiterate?”
In short, poverty rates and illiteracy rates are intertwined problems. And I don’t think we can actually solve the former without first solving the latter.