July 2, 2009

July 2, 2009 | Commentary on Education

What No Government Program Can Do

Here in Washington, D.C., the formula almost never changes. Policymakers see a problem, throw money at it and hope it goes away. But this rarely works. That's usually because the answer lies not in the government -- but at home.

Although there's no shortage of examples to choose from, the disastrous state of our country's education system is particularly difficult to stomach. And as Americans of Hispanic descent, we should consider this an issue of particular concern.

That's because Hispanic children make up a substantial portion of the student body in our nation's public schools, particularly in large cities including New York, Chicago, San Antonio and Los Angeles.

The statistics speak for themselves: The national drop-out rate is through the roof, and the achievement gap between whites and Hispanic students remains despite the federal government's best efforts. In fact, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the high-school drop-out rate stands at nearly 50 percent in some of our country's major cities.

That means that almost one out of every two students will fail to finish high school and will be ill-prepared to take on the demanding challenges of the 21st century workforce.

For the past few decades, stretching back to the 1960s, the federal government has spent millions of dollars hopelessly trying to improve the education system. Recently, Congress and the Obama administration included close to $98 billion for educational purposes in the so-called "stimulus" bill.

Suffice it to say, money hasn't been the problem -- and it isn't the solution. Instead, the problem largely stems from the entrenched interests in the educational system that adamantly oppose reform. For example, far too many labor unions seem more concerned about protecting the interests of their million-plus members than ensuring that we are doing everything possible to provide our children the best possible education.

With $98 billion allocated to public education alone, one would think that calls for increased funding would have subsided. But if you go to the Web site of the largest and most influential teacher's labor union, you'll find it calling for even more spending.

The truth is that no government program can convince parents to take a greater role in their children's studies. As my Heritage Foundation colleague Christine Kim recently wrote in an empirical study titled Academic Success Begins at Home, "social science research demonstrates a strong link between the intact family structure, parental involvement, and educational outcomes, from school readiness to college completion."

Children tend to perform better in school when their parents are involved in their studies. Additionally, Kim concluded, students who grow up in a two-parent home are also likely to do better in school than their peers who grow up in broken homes.

It may seem obvious, but unfortunately we seem to have become trained to look to Washington for the answers to everything, including the sorry state of our education system.

For the Hispanic community in particular, education must become an even greater issue. As our numbers grow, parents must do everything they can to ensure that our children are being encouraged to continue their studies and grow up in an environment that encourages academic excellence.

You can't put a price tag on a parent sitting down with his son or daughter to work on that night's homework.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
Accounting

First Appeared in Hola Amigo (Miami, FL)