Neera Tanden, CAP president and counselor to the CAP Action Fund, served as the moderator for the event, which also featured Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Celia Rouse, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
“Over the last year, CAP has been working on ideas around economic growth,” Tanden began the discussion. “Through our research and analysis, we have found that a strong and stable middle class is actually the best engine of growth.”
According to Tanden, investments in education — from pre-K to postsecondary schooling — is one of the most important pathways to building a stronger middle class in the United States.
Kaine said that providing more educational pathways is among the best ways to boost the nation’s “talent pool.” He said that he definitely sees a connection between educational obtainment and individual income levels.
“The path that Virginia has traveled in the last 55 years has been a remarkable one,” Kaine said. “It seems to me we were a low-income state and a low-education state, and now we’re a really educated state and we’re a high-income state.”
Virginia’s turnabout, he said, came via a three-pronged strategy that involved developing homegrown talent through bipartisan educational investments, attracting out-of-state and international talent and attracting “institutions that want to be around talent.”
Innovation, infrastructure and human capital are the utmost generators of economic growth, said Rouse. She believes the links between educational obtainment and economic successes are unmistakable.
Rouse said that, annually, the United States spends about $3 billion on the remedial education of college students. She said it would be a sounder investment if such programs were implemented on the high school level — perhaps as a measure implemented in the 12th grade to determine whether a student is better suited for postsecondary education or entry into the workforce.
Rouse said that investments in early education results in students that are likelier to graduate from high school and later obtain higher-paying jobs.
“There’s no question that investments in pre-K, especially high quality pre-K, pay off,” she continued. “And they pay off handsomely.”
The “spillover” from education, she said, resulted in individuals that were better paid, healthier and less likely to seek social assistance or engage in criminal activity than those with less education. “We all benefit from a more educated society,” she said.
Both Kaine and Rouse believe that as America’s students become more diverse, there may be a greater need for personalized education strategies, in tandem with more autonomy for educators.
“By setting standards, I think we do want to avoid it being very cookie cutter,” Rouse said. “But I think one thing we do want to have a clearer and shared understanding of is what are the expectations and where do we want to get students to get to?”
Kaine had similar concerns about the effectiveness of standards-oriented education.
“We’ve kind of had a move towards the standardization of the [education] experience as a quality control mechanism,” Kaine said. “But the world is not a one-size-fits-all world anymore.”
Through new technologies, he believes it is possible for teachers and education systems to implement programs tailored to specific student learning styles and needs.
“Maybe the way we deal with some of these diversity issues is ultimately not about focusing on ‘is this group doing the same as this group,’” he concluded, “but having a system that treats each kid as kind of an individual?”
Photo courtesy of U.S. Army