“Our education system can be one of the greatest tools we have to fight poverty… to give students the tools they need to live the lives they want.” This quote from Michael McShane encapsulates the purpose and message of the Education and Opportunity conference. Sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute’s Values & Capitalism project, the conference was held at Bethel College on February 18. Despite bad weather, AEI research fellow Michael McShane and Bethel education professor Jeffrey Stueve spoke to 50 business students and future teachers on the topic of education reform. The discussion was framed by the main points of McShane’s monograph “Education and Opportunity.”
First of all, education is important. Getting a quality education lessens the likelihood of negative life outcomes. As McShane stated, “Our education system can be one of the greatest tools we have to fight poverty…” Preparing young people for their futures is not only beneficial for those students but also for society as a whole.
Secondly, the current education system is not doing a great job of educating students. McShane pointed out that only 75-80 percent of students graduate from high school and only 26 percent of the 2013 graduates who took the ACT received college-ready scores. Of the students that do graduate from high school, very few of them are prepared to attend college.
Finally, McShane offered ways to improve a struggling education system. Schools are centralized and bureaucratized. So how do we reorganize the school system to make it work better? McShane suggested that we empower parents and students. They should have the freedom to choose where they want to attend school. Several solutions are already being tested around the country like the voucher system and charter schools.
Stueve stated, “The way we measure the success of an education is not always just income or test scores, it’s about character…. Our goal is to serve children.” Dr. Stueve expressed his fear that some reform options might treat students as an item to be bought and sold in the marketplace rather than treating them as the precious young people that they are. Each and every student is special and unique and deserves to be treated that way. But he pointed out how important reform of the education system is in order to ensure that students are indeed treated and educated the way they deserve.
During the discussion that followed, the students and professors in attendance agreed that there is no easy way to reform the education system but that reform is necessary. The speakers lead an engaging and informative discussion on education, leaving the student body of Bethel College ready to learn more and become proactive in making the American education system work better for the students that it serves.