It Is Time to Accept That We Need to Pay the Price

The presidential primary elections are in full swing, and what we hear about most is the desire for change. For many Americans, Washington is not living up to their expectations. The results of last week’s Iowa primaries were proof of that. People are looking for change and a quick fix to a system they see as broken. Very few have a clear idea of what needs to be done, they just know that they want to try something different. The same can be said of our education system. For many, it is not living up to expectations, and they are looking for a quick fix.

The public’s desire for change is not new. Both politics and education are moving targets influenced by current events, shifting economic environments, and personal experiences. As far as I know, there has not been a time in history when we were satisfied with the status quo in politics, education, or life in general. What we do, how we live, where we work, and the education needed to meet these goals, has been in a constant state of flux. It is our nature to be curious and inventive; to want what others have, and when we get it, to still want more; and to teach our children to expect more than what we had. With these growing and ever-changing expectations, we will never be satisfied with the way things are in politics or in education.

Here is my take on education. When we look at our education system, many people talk failure. But in truth, many American schools are doing the best job of educating students in history. In 1950, students completed an average of nine and one-quarter years. Now most students have a high school education. The basics haven’t changed — reading, writing, and arithmetic. What changed are technology innovations, global competition, and public expectations. Do we need change in education? Yes, but it’s not because the education system is broken. It is because our world is changing and our expectations for education are changing in response to the environment in which we now live. It is not the first time that we have shown that we have the desire for change, but to make things happen we must also be willing to pay the price.

Here is where failure occurs. We all talk the value of education, but when push comes to shove, how many are really willing to pay the price. My own state is a perfect example. In the Dec. 11, 2006 issue of the Phoenix Business Journal, it was written “Gov. Janet Napolitano is expected to offer a budget next month that puts a major focus on, and increases spending for, K-12 and early education, children's health care, and better leveraging the state's universities to help with economic and work force development. Napolitano has made the latter the showcase of her one-year term as chairwoman of the National Governors Association. The goal of Napolitano's NGA effort is to help Arizona and other states compete globally, improve their work force quality, and diversify their economies.” Fast forward to January 2008 with the state facing a deficit. A Jan. 5, 2008 article in the East Valley Tribune states, “Universities, community colleges, and public schools would lose tens of millions of dollars, fewer poor children would receive state health insurance, and construction of schools would be delayed under a proposal to balance the state budget released by top Republican budget leaders Friday.”

I can’t help but wonder how short-sighted people and politicians can be. I understand the budget deficit and the need to correct it. I also understand that education is the biggest line item in the state budget. What I don’t understand is the willingness to sell our kids — and consequentially our state’s economy and our future — short. If we want to talk about change and fixing the system, we need to figure out how to pay the price.