Liberty Expose: Reforming America's Education System

With the 2020 Democratic primary now in full swing, the candidates are seeking to win over American’s straddled with college loan debt by proposing loan forgiveness. Such a proposal is understandably popular, especially on the left. Over 44 million Americans have taken out loans in order to pay for their college tuition and pursue their dreams, but taking on such debt does not always guarantee success. Regardless of whether or not the government should forgive all student debt or make college free, America’s K-12 education system needs serious reform to break the power college degrees hold in gatekeeping people from the jobs they want.

But before I go more into detail about what this reform should entail, I will discuss the proposals (or ideas) of the 2020 Democrats. Leading the charge on this issue are Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Both of these Senators are the standard-bearers of the progressive movement in American politics. They seek to overhaul a system that supposedly does not work for the average American citizen, only for the wealthy elite. Enemy #1 -- well, one of them -- is the college loan business. The 44 million Americans with student loan debt owe a combined total of $1.5 trillion; and obviously, this amount will continue to climb as people are forced to get a college degree to enter most career fields. 

Warren’s debt plan has four pillars to it. First, eliminate the debt of 95 percent of the almost “45 million Americans with student debt;” second, “Wipe out student loan debt entirely for more than 75 [percent] of the Americans with that debt;” third, “Substantially increase wealth for Black and Lantinx families and reduce both the Black-White and Latinx-White wealth gaps; and finally, “Provide an enormous middle-class stimulus that will boost economic growth, increase home purchases, and fuel a new wave of small business formation.” In addition to this plan, the Senator from Massachusetts wants to completely eliminate tuition and fees for two-year and four-year degrees from public universities; along with making higher education more inclusive of minorities. 

Then there is Senator Sanders proposal. This one is much more simple -- eliminate all of the $1.6 trillion in existing student loan debt no matter the debtee’s income level. Like Senator Warren, Sanders also wants to make two-year and four-year college tuition free, along with investing more money into minority-based universities such as the historically black colleges (HBC).

Overall, both of these plans should sell well to Democrats and a large number of Americans  who are becoming ever more supportive of making higher education more affordable. Back in May, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 56 percent of the 1,990 surveyed supported Warren’s plan. In a Ipsos/Newsy study, surveyors found that debt forgiveness is one of the top five issues for Democrats, and third most important for Millennials. Well over 70 percent of those surveyed wanted “lower interest rates on student loans (88 percent) and increased grant funding for costs associated with college (73 percent).” 

Whether or not the U.S. government should forgive all student loan debt, it is clear that higher education has a powerful hold on determining what jobs one can get. To combat this, we need to rethink the American public education system -- focusing specifically on 6th grade to 12th grade. The quality of education in K-12 can vary greatly depending on what is being taught (and more importantly, is it being taught effectively), external factors that a student might be dealing with (family or medical issues) and the amount of resources/funding a school provides. 

Both sides on this issue raise valid proposals. Charter schools -- which are frequently championed by conservatives -- can be good alternatives to public schools, and even though they may not result in any net positive changes in forcing traditional schools to change (depending) on the distance between these schools in some areas), they do in some cases produce students that have better success getting into college all while not skimming mostly white students or those that perform better than average. Progressives also have some ideas that would be beneficial in improving the U.S. education system, such as making school times built around the parent’s work schedule (9am - 5pm), improving access to mental health resources in schools and making lunches more affordable while also nutritious and filling to ensure students are able to learn at maximum capacity. 

But most importantly, it is time the U.S. takes a step back and reexamine the curriculum public schools offer by establishing a national guideline, one that is radically different than Common Core. First and foremost, digital technology is obviously an integral part of society. Whether its maintaining a database of hospital records or managing an entire city’s water supply, digital technology allows society to operate more efficiently; and to ensure we are prepared to replace old systems with new ones, the K-12 school system needs to equip future generations with this knowledge. 

Second, one area in which the United States lags behind the rest of the world is being able to read, write, speak and understand a foreign language. According to the American Councils, only 20 percent of those in K-12 programs are studying a foreign language. Because of this, fewer colleges are offering language programs simply because students do not see the benefit of learning one and thus it is a waste of resources. Yet being fluent in another language is incredibly important in the public and private sectors. This is especially true for jobs relating to national security such as the Foreign Services, military and intelligence agencies. 

Third, schools in the U.S. need to do a better job at informing their students about their civic duties. A One Poll survey conducted in October of 2018 found that only a quarter of the population know what makes up the Bill of Rights, while another half confused parts of the Declaration of Independence for the Constitution. Without a firm understanding of our basic rights and history, Americans are only more susceptible to the forces of fake news. Along with the need for better civic lessons, students also need to know how to file taxes. Some programs may already  require students to take personal finance classes, but others might not. My high school, for instance, offered a class on the subject that taught us how to balance a checkbook and required every freshman to take part of a “reality check” to give us practice, but neither of these activities informed us how to file a tax return which can be a daunting task for a first timer. 

The education system in the United States is in clear need of reform. The three proposals I outlined are not a cure-all. There are many other deficiencies that prevent the American K-12 system from being the golden standard of the world. In any case, while debt cancellation may be an attractive short-term solution, the only way to combat student debt and breaking the power a college degree has over the job market is to reinvent the American school system is to make higher education an option -- not a requirement.