One conservative criticism of our current education policy is that a one-size-fits-all plan is unrealistic. With Common Core and No Child Left Behind pushing the education status quo, efforts in policy reform should be taken to develop more diverse options for students.
In January, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) revealed his “opportunity agenda,” consisting of two Senate bills on education reform. Last Friday, Scott promoted his education initiatives at CPAC:
There are four million jobs vacant today in America. We need to prepare our adult learners to fill those jobs…every child doesn’t want to go to college…we should have a dual track, one for college, and one for the skills necessary to fill the four million vacancies we have today in America.
As college tuition continues to increase and there are fewer available jobs commensurate to the cost of the degree, students should benefit from alternative tracks.
Scott recognizes, however, that a student’s choice not to go to college doesn’t solve the unemployment crisis caused by education. The “four million jobs vacant today” require skills that aren’t taught in high school. In fact, college isn’t the only aspect of education that needs improvement: Reforming the deeply university-oriented high school system is also necessary. Curricula centered on developing skills for trade jobs should be available before graduating high school.
Scott’s proposal responds to the growing skepticism of a compulsory college education. And he’s right—not every child needs to be on a path to obtain a four-year university degree. Although he doesn’t articulate it that way, saying that not every child wants to go to college is the rhetorically smart way of saying “not every child needs to go to college.” The latter sounds authoritarian while the former promotes choice among children and their parents. And that freedom to choose was the signature of Scott’s speech:
[The opportunity agenda] believes that kids, not unions, should be the focus of our public education; that parents, and not bureaucrats in Washington, should decide the path of their child’s education. They should be free to choose.
The need to restructure the current education system has been increasingly acknowledged by Republican politicians. In the other Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory campaigned in 2012 on developing alternative tracks for North Carolina students not interested in the college path. Former Sen. Rick Santorum spoke at CPAC of the “70 percent of Americans [who] do not have college degrees.” His concern was not their lack of a degree, but that the current job market’s concentration on college disregards those who could be excelling in manufacturing or energy.
With high unemployment numbers and a key election approaching, conservatives should propose legislation to reform our broken education system.