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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Andrew Gall, Democratic Candidate for Congress, District 5 (Guest column)

When I first enrolled in college, I planned on being a high school history teacher (and I have a Bachelor’s in History to show for it). I was originally drawn to teaching because I saw it as a way to make a positive difference in the lives of others – just as my mom, a social worker, and my stepmom, a public-school teacher had done. However, after supervising a program that brought disadvantaged students to my college for an extra day of schooling on Saturdays and teaching English as a Second Language, I realized that as a teacher I would only have the opportunity to help kids that filtered through my classroom by chance, but that if I were to shape education policy I could help every kid in America. The realization that public policy has the potential to help people on a large scale is what turned me toward politics.

I believe that politicians should orient more time and effort to bettering our nation’s education system. Unfortunately, education is an issue that often takes a backseat. Without a vote, the youth are deemed irrelevant to politicians, who are often more concerned with getting reelected. My underpinning philosophy of governance is that every child – no matter the circumstances they are born into – should have as close to an equal chance in life to succeed as possible. A strong education system is the foundation to seeing this philosophy become reality.

In order to advance the education system, we need to step away from the dictates of politicians and listen to educators on the ground. From a policy perspective, this means giving principles the leeway to innovate; we should then reward achievement and spread successful practices to the rest of the nation. Additionally, we need to move away from a system strictly based on standardized test-score measurement. Yes, test scores need to be part of the equation – after all we can’t compete in the global economy if our populace can’t write or do basic math – but test scores are not a catalyst to success. Teachers should be more than testing tutors they should be mentors. Consequently, test scores should be added to a mix of surveys that measure student motivation, hope, and interest in school. After all, if a student doesn’t have hope for their future, no amount of rote test taking skills will turn them into real achievers.

We also need to look at reforming higher education. As a current graduate student with mountains of student debt, I can attest to the financial crush young people are forced to deal with as a result of an economy that requires ever increasing levels of education. As the youngest member of Congress I will bring the strength of being able to speak to the issues facing young people (i.e., job availability and climate change to name two). For example, I know that the rapid rise in higher education costs are not sustainable and are driving increasing amounts of students to dropout before reaching their dreams of a college diploma. This hurts our nation’s prosperity and economic growth. It is estimated that 75% of jobs will require a college education by 2018. We can’t be a nation of college dropouts. To address this growing phenomenon I have proposed a "National Promise Act," which states that, if you do well enough in school, we, as a nation, will promise low and middle income students the opportunity to go to college tuition free.

Prince George’s County education system has a lot of room for improvement, but it also has a lot of smart, committed educators. If we are able to harness the lessons, knowledge, and talent of the local area and combine it with people, such as myself, that are committed to pushing for progress at the federal level, Prince George’s schools can be a symbol of success for the nation.

-Andrew Gall

Democratic Candidate for Congress (MD-05)


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