8:00 am Aug. 15, 2012
The U.S. Olympic athletes performed heroically in London, carrying on a proud tradition by collectively winning more medals than any other contingent.
Good thing, too. Can you imagine the sense of national crisis, or the urgency of the criticism, if the U.S. had finished 21st on the medals table? Or 25th?
Now imagine what the tenor of the national conversation might be if the team had not only lost, but if the athletes' poor performance were also part of a pattern of decline over a number of years, with no end in sight.
The media, one imagines, would hardly have been able to talk about anything else.
Such mediocrity has in fact become the norm when it comes to America's education system. U.S. students are now 21st in the world in science, and 25th in math, and American is now regularly ranked "average" by international standards when it comes to overall student performance.
Reversing that slide is a matter that is both vital and urgent, affecting America's economy, health and national security. It's not overstating things to say that the country's very future depends on it.
Yet attention to this alarming national failure has been surprisingly hard to come by.
Amazingly, the education issue has gotten almost entirely lost in the 2012 presidential contest, overshadowed in media accounts by the regular exchange of personal accusations and internet-ready gotcha attacks between the campaigns.
And when the candidates do talk about education, they tend to do so in broad terms, seemingly more interesting in expressing empathy than offering real, tangible, effective prescriptions for turning things around.
To bring more attention to this important issue, the College Board has launched a campaign called "Don't Forget Ed," an effort that began in June and will run through the elections. The premise is simple: The statistics on American education are shocking, and the more people are aware of them, the more public pressure will be brought to be bear on elected officials to make fixing the system a priority.
On June 19th, Don't Forget Ed set up 857 desks on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to signify the number of students who drop out of school every hour of every school day. The event garnered widespread attention.
The follow-up will be just as ambitious—a gesture that will give voice to what we believe is a woefully under-addressed popular desire to see the education issue get the timely attention it deserves.
Our leaders need to get the message that when it comes to American education, running back in the middle of the pack is unacceptable.
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