Biden is Better for the Challenges of a World Class Education System
By Capt. Russell Shilling, USN (Ret.)
These are frustrating times for students and their parents. I have two sons with autism, and like many others, we are traversing new challenges in distance learning — Zoom classes, remote assignments, and the demands of being a full time parent and educator. In these challenging times, we need strong federal leadership in education — but what we have is worse than a vacuum.
Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration are actively sabotaging public education and our children’s future. In the past few weeks, the Trump Administration has threatened to cut off funding from schools that didn’t re-open early, and has been rebuked by the courts for funneling COVID-19 funding from public to private schools — the sort of decision-making you’d expect from DeVos, a billionaire with no education background and connections to for-profit education.
I am a research psychologist who spent 22-years in the Navy fostering research in training, education, and psychological health. When I retired, I joined the Obama Administration as the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) lead at the U.S. Department of Education. I was honored to work with the dedicated public servants who have devoted their lives to education. However, under DeVos, the system has been derailed. It is now unresponsive to the challenges of COVID-19 and the educational challenges confronted by America’s children.
Even before COVID-19 struck, our schools were struggling. In the latest international assessments, the United States ranked 38th in the world in mathematics and 24th in science. These numbers had been improving during the Obama administration — but with the Trump administration, we left the path of closing these gaps to follow a chaotic, misguided path that undermines our public education system and threatens the future of our children. The STEM Office we created within the Department of Education no longer exists. Now with the pandemic disrupting schools, our children are left adrift. The DeVos response has been to insist we further disrupt progress by forcing schools to conduct annual assessment tests. These tests will provide meaningless data in these chaotic times.
Joe Biden recognizes the importance of a robust public education system and the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure so that all children have access to the resources they need to succeed. The Obama/Biden White House had annual Science Fairs where students were recognized and honored for their interest in science and technology. Today our children hear a President who muses about drinking disinfectant to cure disease, alters weather maps with sharpies, and openly discredits the nation’s best scientists. The Trump administration has shown itself to be virulently anti-science as well as anti-public education. What’s the path forward?
First, we need to support our teachers. Teachers are some of our nation’s greatest heroes. They deserve our respect and our support. Unfortunately, they are unfairly vilified by the current leadership. As schools start reopening, we are asking them to risk their health and their lives. Based on her long commitment to education, we know that Dr. Jill Biden will honor and support fellow teachers and a system which provides our children with quality educational opportunities. Joe Biden has pledged to have actual teachers making policy in his Administration rather than inexperienced dilettantes disconnected from the realities of the classroom.
Second, we need to innovate. I led programs in STEM and psychological health at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) the military organization that has created technologies like the internet and new approaches currently being used to rapidly develop vaccines. Success in education requires this same dedication and investment so that our kids can excel. We were proposing to pursue these innovative education moonshots in the Obama/Biden Administration but were thwarted by Republican lawmakers. Joe Biden will put these efforts back on track. COVID-19 has exposed the need to transform our education system to support our kids in the 21st-century world where we live.
Third, we need to start early. While serving in the military, I produced programs with Sesame Street to support military children. Working with young kids made me realize that we need to start in preschool if we wish for them to succeed. Dr. Jill Biden and Michelle Obama showed enthusiastic support for these programs. We need to give children from all backgrounds the ability to believe in themselves — this self-confidence is required whether they join the military, work in factories, or pursue technical or scientific careers.
Biden is the clear choice to revitalize and restore our education system. He will support STEM education, early childhood, and a strong public-school system. He has demonstrated his devotion to education during his long political career and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden is a gifted and dedicated educator who will use her position to improve education for everyone. Every parent and every student knows how challenging and serious this time is — we need leadership that cares about our childrens’ future. Joe Biden can provide it.
Capt. Shilling is a former Research and Development Program Officer at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the former Executive Director of STEM Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education.