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Education Policy is Not Just about Education

Last week, NMSI participated in two major national conferences – the 2013 ECS National Forum on Education Policy and the 30th Annual NAELO Conference.  The biggest takeaway NMSI got from these events was that education policy is not just about education, rather it is part and parcel of several national issues.
Education policy is often viewed as a standalone issue, but we are seeing a change in the way people talk about the state of the education system and the correlation between education and other social issues.  Indeed, there are many issues that impact the American education system at a very fundamental level.
At the ECS Conference, Secretary Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, were co-panelists on a session highlighting the importance of early learning in the U.S. education system, and the importance of health care access for young children and groups that are particularly vulnerable to health problems related to poverty such as asthma and lead exposure. Even something as simple as a child being able to see the blackboard in the classroom is a major concern because it has a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn and stay engaged.
Other issues impacting education, such as infrastructure, were also discussed at the NALEO Conference.  According the American Society of Civil Engineers, investment in school infrastructure has significantly decreased since the recession and represents one of the lowest funded categories listed in the 2013 Report Card for American Infrastructure.  Spending on school construction has decreased to about half the level spent prior to the recession.  Increasing academic rigor in schools and engaging students is challenging in itself, but it becomes even more difficult if the conditions of school facilities do not make for a conducive learning environment.
Another hot topic discussed last week was the need for adequate resources to support English language learners and instructors (ELLs) in the classroom.  While it is not surprising that ELLs are concentrated in the Southwest and major metropolitan areas, there are large communities of ELLs across the U.S., meaning that this is a national issue rather than just a border-state issue.  Student proficiency in English becomes even more important with the implementation of Common Core and the assessment tools that will follow.
It is clear that education is affected by several factors at the micro and macro levels, and it is great that dialogues on education policy are tying in issues such as health care and infrastructure.  This helps paint a more nuanced picture of what is going on in education policy, and how various stakeholders can work together to develop more targeted and effective policy to solve the challenges currently facing the American education system.