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Education: Our Future Depends on It

“For the past 150 years, we’ve been tinkering with education,” said Scott Himelstein, director of the Center for Education Policy & Law at University of San Diego. “We haven’t evolved … but we’re reaching a tipping point. Things can’t stay the same.”

Education-related issues can spark heated debate – I saw that firsthand at a recent LEAD San Diego IMPACT program in which Himelstein spoke.  The cohort also heard from Sally J. Bennett-Schmidt, director of assessment at the San Diego County Office of Education, who made it clear there is a problem: only 60 percent of students (grades 2-11) are meeting state standards in English and only 56 percent are meeting the standards in mathematics.  Further, barely 40 percent of San Diego County students graduated with the requirements to enter into the University of California or California State University system. These students don’t even have a choice as to whether to go to a UC or CSU school because they don’t meet the requirements. Sixteen percent dropout altogether, and minority populations are at greater risk.

“We are not satisfied with these data,” said Bennett-Schmidt. “Everyone of these students has a face, and their parents are sending them to us with expectations.”

While getting agreement on the causes of our problems in the educational system or  solutions for the future is a daunting task, most people agree that something has to be done.

“At the end of the day, a strong public school system is something just about everybody wants,” said Richard Barrera, board president, San Diego Unified School District.

So how do we get there? What can we – as business men and women, civic-minded individuals, parents, employers and human beings – do? Putting politics aside, there are a few things that are not debated:

  • Speak up – don’t let education be somebody else’s problem. This is your education system too.
  • Organize with others – parents, teachers, administrators and others should collaborate and work toward solutions. Strong communities make a difference.
  • Become involved with your school board – can you name people who sit on your local school board? Most people can’t. Learn about and get involved with your local school board.
  • Be accountable – while it’s easy to play the blame game, we all play a role. Do your part to make a difference.
  • Invest in our schools – An “investment” doesn’t always mean money. It can also mean investing your time, energy and other resources. For those looking to get involved through volunteerism, the Union-Tribune (client) Volunteer for Education Campaign aims to mobilize, challenge and recruit San Diego County residents to pledge to volunteer in K-12 schools throughout the 2011-12 school year.

Creating an education system that allows our kids and kids’ kids to be successful – regardless of race, background or socio-economic status – is not only the right thing to do, but our future also depends on it.

Teresa Siles (@tsiles) is vice president and director of social media at Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, a full-service public relations firm in San Diego focused on creating conversations and building relationships to help clients succeed.

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