The Three New M’s Of Education Reform: Minorities, Millennials And Moderates


October 22, 2014 11:38AM

During the campaign season, there are plenty of politicians promising to better education by increasing spending. What they don’t tell taxpayers is that the additional funding will come from their wallets—and it is unlikely to improve achievement. Given this poor track record, candidates should be talking about the future of education in terms of three new “M’s,” and money is not one of them.

Minority Students. Minorities are not the minority in public schools anymore. This school year, minority students will outnumber white students for the first time. One-third of Hispanic students do not finish high school, and achievement gaps persist between Hispanic and black students and their white peers. Just 7 percent of black students scored at the proficient level in math in the latest national comparison, compared to 33 percent of white students. Today we can document the devastating results of these gaps. Black men without a high school diploma are more likely to be in prison than to have a job. Approximately 75 percent of Hispanic immigrant adults only have a high school degree or less. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for individuals with a high school degree or less is double the rate for those with at least some college education. Every child should have the chance at a great education, not just those who can afford a private school or extra tutoring. Lawmakers must focus on creating better options for all children, especially those that the traditional system has not served well.

Millennials. Adults of the millennial generation are tomorrow’s parents—not to mention taxpayers for at least the next 40 years. The cost of education is going to take on a whole new meaning for this generation, especially because they will also be saddled with paying for the federal debt thanks for the increasing costs of Social Security and Medicare. To make matters worse, these recent college graduates carry an average college loan debt of $30,000. Finding high-quality, lower-cost education opportunities for their children will be paramount. Flexible alternatives to assigned public schools, like education savings accounts, allow parents to choose from private or online schools, along with personal tutors and individual college classes creating a unique experience for their children without breaking the bank. Also, with this option, public funds are deposited into a dedicated bank account and families use a debit card to make education purchases. Lawmakers in Arizona and Florida have made the accounts available to parents in their states; each is worth approximately 90 percent of what the state typically spends from taxpayer resources on public schools. A survey of Arizona parents using the accounts finds that 90 percent report being “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their experience so far, even among parents that were “very satisfied” with their previous public school. Millennials have grown up with more choices about their day-to-day lives. They are used to adapting to new technologies, both at home and in the workplace, so they will expect innovative learning options for their children.

Moderate Voters. Put simply, there are more of them. Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that 42 percent of Americans “identified as political independents” (the highest in 25 years). Outside of the bluest or reddest states, these independent voters will be the ones who swing elections. Pew Center data find that legal immigrants who traditionally vote Democrat will account for some 25 percent of the electorate in the next 20 to 30 years—more than double the same figure from the 2012 election. (It should be noted that in 2012, 71 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama.) While Democrats, calling themselves “pro-education voters,” have historically supported more education spending and other efforts like smaller class sizes, opinions are changing. A recent nationally representative survey found broad support for giving parents options for their children’s education over their assigned schools. Twice as many respondents said they support public charter schools over those who were opposed. Half of respondents favored school vouchers for all children, compared to 39 percent opposed. And once respondents were told how much it costs to reduce class sizes, support for class-size reduction dropped from 46 percent to 35 percent. Nearly as many respondents favored buying new books and technology.

Money isn’t the “M” that candidates should be focused on. Education’s future lies in thoughtful consideration of these three other M’s.