Educational Empowerment

Educational Empowerment

Because education can and should be a path to the American Dream for you and your family. Commonsense proposals to build our educational capital for the benefit of our families, friends and nation.

America fulfilled its promise to me in large part because it gave me access to some of the best public and private educational institutions. But before I even went to school the value of education was imbued into me by my mother, a former public school teacher.

The organizing principle of this campaign’s mission is to extend America’s promise more broadly. Education is a centerpiece of this goal. Educational reform should endeavor to develop the skills and knowledge of our students, and not in the lowering of standards and expectations with shortsighted policies such as ending the SATs. When I was a young child, a teacher once suggested to my parents that I would not go to college. My parents did not allow me to be limited by the expectations of a single teacher. No student in the district or in the country should suffer from such a fate, but sadly there are too many who are.

That teacher was wrong to have such low expectations of me, much in the same way that the educational system often seems to find as acceptable unacceptably low educational performance outcomes. My parents believed and expected more from me than did that one teacher, and I with attention and care succeeded. There are countless “little Larrys” out there in the form of young students who deserve an extra push or a bit more care.

If we can succeed in better educating our children, we all benefit. A highly competitive capitalist society such as ours is collectively better off when we are better educated. Come take a look at some of the ways I would fight to expand America’s promise can be available to more of us through education, especially with a concentration on the basics elements of a traditional learning experience. Come learn about what I stand for.

What Would Larry Do

Charter Schools:

Charter schools offer an underutilized alternative to the traditional public school systems. As a graduate of public elementary schools in the 11th District, I understand how cherished local control is to parents, teachers and students alike. Charter schools do not threaten that local control, as they expand choices available to those whose schools have not delivered on their promise to them without interfering with the principle that local communities should run their local schools.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Discretionary Grants & Support Services should be provided the resources to empower those stakeholders interested in creating or expanding charter school options to do so with maximum flexibility, but rigorous accountability standards. Countless studies remark on the long term benefits associated with attending charter schools. This association was made with convincing detail in one such study, prepared for The Boston Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund and entitled “Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness: The Effects on College Preparation, Attendance and Choice.” The study’s authors contrast the successes of charter schools with that of many [other] educational interventions [that] show promising short-run gains, followed by discouragingly fast fadeout.” In contrast this study shows that

…charter attendance raises the probability that students pass high-stakes exams required for high-school graduation, boosts the likelihood that students qualify for an exam-based college scholarship, increases the frequency of AP test-taking, substantially increases SAT scores and shifts students away from two-year colleges toward four-year schools.

There is a lot that we can learn from the successes of charter schools. The federal government can and should be instrumental in expanding out access to charter schools, without overstepping the state’s traditional role in education, and without breaking the bond between local communities and their local school which is especially treasured in New Jersey’s 11th District.

Special Needs Programs:

We can’t leave the most vulnerable among us behind. These are not idle words. About a decade ago my niece Lily, was born with Down syndrome. The experiences of her mother, my sister Kristen Benitez, navigating through the world of childhood education as a young mom with a special needs child was instructive. Indeed, my sister’s frustration with the dearth of options available to her young child as she reached school age ultimately motivated her to create her own foundation offering supplemental programs to kids with Down syndrome in her community.

While my sister’s efforts in the creation of her foundation, Lily’s Angels, named after her daughter, is extraordinary, we must expect more help from Washington so that more inspired parents and educators have the opportunity to better serve the needs of children with special needs. I vow to be a fierce advocate for the educational betterment of the diverse range of special needs children and adults throughout NJ’s 11th District. But, the task of educating our students, particularly those with special needs, is made more challenging in light of newly emerging issues, such as the teacher shortage now plaguing much of NJ. Although it won’t make me many friends in the very teacher’s union my mother once belonged to, I believe that greater flexibility in the compensation and incentive structure of teachers would bring new and fresh talent to our deserving school.

I understand how complicated and specific the challenges faced by special needs students can be. So my campaign is soliciting input from community members in the hope that we can better deliver smart policy solutions to the residents of our 11th District.

Encourage Private Sector/Non-Profit Innovation:

Our free market system is an amazing asset that must be leveraged to develop educational programs and solutions for the future. I deny the either-or thinking of those who believe that harnessing the engine of the free market in the education sector threatens our nation’s indispensable public schools. The public schools in our district and our nation have been success stories, leading to the creation of our country’s middle class. But the middle class is under pressure, so we must demand more from our educational system.

The Khan Academy is one such not-for-profit, private sector innovation in the world of education that has been an overwhelming success story. With its original emphasis on the sciences and math, The Khan Academy, a non-profit created by the private sector, makes available thousands of free lessons to students on its platform and on its YouTube channel. The Khan Academy could not have been created without the technical advancements of the internet and indeed succeeds precisely because it harnesses the power of technologies made possible by the free market. The federal government must respect local control of education. Yet, it can facilitate the cooperation between stakeholders and leaders in both the private and public spaces to encourage further educational innovation.

Develop & Reform the For-Profit Sector:

I believe that there is a place for for-profit companies to engage in the educational space. Sadly it seems as though we are not there yet, as some for-profit educational providers have faced allegations of predatory lending, churning out fewer students with degrees than students defaulting on student loans. Indeed, in an interview with the NY Times, in an article entitled “Left in the Lurch by Private Loans From For-Profit Colleges,” a former student who attended a school run by a locally based for-profit educational company described this organization by saying “I just feel like they’re a money pit.” She further stated that from her perspective the company’s view was that “we’re going to get our money and we’re going to put them in debt and they’re going to have to pay us back.”

Although the state of affairs in the for-profit education industry are concerning, I see an opportunity here. With targeted governmental oversight and a predictable regulatory environment, it is my hope that more actors from the private sector will rush into this space and with enhanced competition that the private sector can provide the community with sensible and affordable educational alternatives.

By holding firm and not compromising standards while cultivating a dynamic market place with public and private solutions to educational needs serving conventional and unconventional life learners in a smart mix of conventional and unconventional ways, the path towards a brighter future awaits us.