Election 2012: Two Visions on Education

Your Take: Obama's reforms put our children's future on the right track. Romney would derail them.


(Special to The Root) -- In the day-to-day pre-election grind, it's so easy to get bogged down in the 24-hour news cycle that we start to lose sight of what's actually at stake in this presidential election. We simply can't afford to do that this year, especially when two such different visions and plans for our country's future are offered. The choice between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney truly will determine our nation's future, and nowhere is the contrast more apparent than on the issue of education.

These are not hollow words for me. When I think of my own life story, I recognize that without education, I would not be walking the hallowed halls of Harvard today. I grew up in a working-class family in California, and I was the first in my family to graduate from high school.

Although I was the one who walked across the stage, there were many hands that helped guide me along the way. It would not have been possible without my family's support; nor would it have been possible without the training, support and effort of great teachers in the public schools I attended. But I wasn't done yet. Thanks to scholarships and people believing that I, too, deserved a chance at a great education, I attended Stanford and then Harvard Law.

Though my story is not the most unusual story ever told, it is still an exception rather than a rule. For too long, too many children in too many homes have been denied access to high-quality educational opportunities because they simply live in the wrong ZIP code.

The persistent achievement gap serves as a sobering reminder that in spite of all the political rhetoric about equality of opportunity, we have a long way to go before all American children are guaranteed the world-class education that they deserve. But our president realizes that this is not acceptable and that a high-quality education should not be a luxury.

In an effort to ensure that our young people do not fall behind before it's too late, he has made historic investments in Head Start programs; he's championed his administration's Race to the Top program, which has already raised academic standards in 46 states; and recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work, he has encouraged more-innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Now let's consider class size. The president understands that class sizes matter, so in an effort to make sure that our classrooms aren't overcrowded, he has taken measures to protect top-quality teachers from layoffs.

His student-loan reforms have cut out the middlemen and invest in students instead of giving more money to the banks that don't need it. Meanwhile, the $10,000 tax credit that he extended to families of college students helped more than 9 million students and families pay for college last year. He has doubled Pell Grant funding, increasing the number of students receiving grants from approximately 6 million to 10 million. And his administration has secured a $2.55 billion investment in HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions across a 10-year period to ensure that more African Americans have access to higher education.

But that's not all. President Obama is actively investing in community colleges to support education and career-training programs for students and workers. He has laid out a plan to forge new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train 2 million workers for well-paying middle-class jobs that already exist in high-growth, high-demand industries like clean energy, health care and transportation.

At a certain point, any attempt to list all of the president's education-related accomplishments starts to read like a laundry list. Ultimately, President Obama understands that a good education is an economic necessity, not a luxury; it's the only surefire way to create good jobs and grow the middle class.