(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.