- - Sunday, November 27, 2016


Recently I attended an event and had the privilege to talk with President-elect Trump. I became intrigued with the possibilities of the future of American education. As a university president and academic entrepreneur who served on Ohio’s State Board of Education, and having spent my career in both K-12 and higher education, I believe we have an opportunity to lead and advance education.

For K-12, reading, reading, reading must be our mantra. Every student must be able to read by grade 3. If nothing else happens in the first three grades, this is a must. Research studies reveal that students who cannot read by grade 3 are more likely to fail in school and spend time in the penal system. Let’s lead with an America Reads program that involves entire communities, corporations, and faith and civic clubs.

The next thing to keep in mind is reducing regulations. In Ohio, we cut 50 percent of regulations as a Board of Education, and schools are now able to function more productively. Top-down federal regulations that aimed to increase achievement in America are doing just the opposite, as teachers are focused on standardized tests while creativity and critical thinking skills are relegated to the margins. Reduce testing by 50 percent and learning will increase as teachers focus on learning instead of testing. Some federal programs increased student and teacher anxiety and added bureaucratic rules and administrative costs without significant gains in knowledge or skills.

We also must incentivize school choice. Parents want choice with regard to education. Our poorest citizens, who are most at-risk are deprived of the American Dream without a great education and are relegated to some of our lowest performing schools. Every student can achieve with love and investment. It is time to begin a movement of local school choice in America that includes all public and private options — lead boldly and keep the federal government restrictions from interfering.

Teachers are a worthy investment. Teachers are on the low end of the income scale in many states yet dedicate their lives to investing in students. Teachers also lack supplies and resources to do their jobs. It is time we invest in great teachers and show appreciation and love for the most wonderful people in America. Some states are attempting to meet federal standards by requiring hundreds of hours of repetitive training, some of which is not germane to a teacher’s local situation. This training takes place after the teacher has graduated from college and been certified. It is time for the states to reassert its purview over teacher training requirements. Great teachers are a key to a great America.

In higher education we also must reduce federal regulations and mandates on colleges and accreditation agencies. College cost is increasing in direct proportion to all the required staffing to meet federal requirements. Colleges and universities are our best innovative learning labs; federal mandates only restrict those environments. Many new federal programs have required staffing increases with little or no impact on learning. Peer accreditation and market-driven solutions should determine what colleges remain open.

It is time to privatize and make accountable federal student loans- Competitive Choice in school loans is now gone and the federal government controls almost all loans for student consumers. This has created a situation that perversely encourages students to make poor choices by accepting all loans available. Currently, colleges can only counsel students to avoid debt, it cannot prevent it. The federal student loan program has become another government welfare program that is one-size-fits — all and has ledto massive borrowing without personal responsibility. Having been a low income student, the greatest way to assist low income students is to develop programs that lead to degrees without significant debt. There are models where this is happening. Give colleges the authority to approve student loan maximum amounts on a yearly basis and debt will drastically decline.

Finally, we must incentivize corporations and individuals regarding student loan debt. There are many creative programs where individuals or corporations could drastically reduce student debt. The corporations could be given tax incentives to pay off a long-term employee’s student loans. The employer would solve a workforce development problem, but be given incentive to do so. The student debt issue in America could be reduced or eliminated as entire communities work to solve the next $1 billion crisis facing America.

Mark A. Smith is president of Ohio Christian University.

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