America Left Behind – The Crisis of our Broken Education System

Editor’s Note: The following guest post was authored by Terencio Safford.  Terencio was recently featured on a Minnesota Public Radio news story focusing on the Amicus Connections Group which is run at Minnesota Correctional Facility – Stillwater.  Terencio is now working hard to make a new future for himself outside of prison and we wish him the best. Watch for more blog posts in the coming weeks from this talented writer.

The 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), was a valiant attempt to reform and revamp our educational system and I believe I now know why that is so important.

The concern that should be considered is the impact to our society of not properly educating our children and young adults. In theory, schooling increases individual wage rates while equally increasing the opportunity cost of crime.

When we allow teenagers to drop out of high school, we set ourselves up for financial letdown in the long run. According to a report commissioned by the National Urban League and others, the collective cost to the nation over the working life of each high school dropout is about $292,000. www.nytimes.com/2009/10/09/education/09dropout.html This includes the cost of providing food stamps and other aid as well as incarcerating those who turn to crime. Furthermore, dropouts tend to make less money in the labor market which means they won’t pay as much in taxes. This is a loss of an estimated $45 billion dollars per year in tax revenue. www.nea.org/assets/docs/dropoutguide1108.pdf

On any given day, about one in every 10 young male high school dropouts is in jail or juvenile detention where one in 35 high school graduates are similarly incarcerated.

“This is an absolute wake-up call for America,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The results are extraordinarily challenging to us and we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education.”

In my view, if we could find a way to implement the NCLB law’s provisions while preserving the autonomy and integrity of the schools it affects and find ways to adjust the standards of testing to fit the academic level of each child, we will inevitably find the solution to many of our nation’s problems. Education opens doors to higher wages and better futures. Also, using vocational and technical programs inside of the prisons reduces an offender’s disadvantage of low educational and organizational skill levels. By offering vocational education and training programs as part of a prisoner’s rehabilitation we greatly increase his/her likelihood of success and re-integration into the community while reducing the risk of reoffending.

In finding the right help to obtain an offender’s re-entry goals, Amicus certainly is a front-runner in this effort. They support their clients’ educational goals through many paths of assistance. Usually, the support Amicus provides comes by way of offering contacts and resources within the community.

Through the Amicus One to One program, those preparing to reenter society are matched with one-to-one ‘friends.’  These friends are just regular people who are willing to help guide someone in need as they begin their path of reformation and success. While one sign of success at Amicus comes when its services are no longer needed by someone reentering society, staff are gratified when participants make an effort to stay in touch and help others who are going through the same challenges they did.  Some ex-offenders have volunteered with Amicus then come back as interns while some have even moved into staff positions.

This help and support is instrumental in the success or failure of those who need it. I am grateful today and always will be for having the honor to know those kind and understanding hearts at the Amicus office. Let’s adjust NCLB and other educational programs so they can help identify the kids out there who would benefit from the same kindness, understanding and a little extra individual help before they become candidates for the kind of help the people at Amicus provide.

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