Structural education reform - progressive blind spots

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Structural education reform

Dear Senator Murray, Senator Cantwell, and Representative Kim Schrier,

Thank for your service. I am writing to you as a resident of the Sammamish plateau because of disturbingly large blind spots with respect to progressive reforms on programs like student loan forgiveness, subsidized college tuition, and other similar policies. These reforms may help, but none alone can address the serious structural problems that I hypothesize below:

  • (a) General information gap among high school students about long term career options and their connections to major, and the decision to attend college (and if students choose to attend, which university).
  • (b) Undersupply of critical STEM and vocational education that poses a national security risk by weakening U.S. dominance in technology and eroding the U.S. manufacturing base.
  • (c) Socioeconomic and racial inequities in education reduce opportunities for our next generation.

We need to increase access to vocational and technical skills: The manufacturing base’s erosion in the US to China and Germany is not solely due to cheap labor. It is because the US has chosen to let vocational skills among the workforce decline; skills that countries like China now have in abundance. [2]

We need better guidance to know how education and training translates to career paths: I graduated high school seven years ago and made a costly decision to learn at an Ivy League university over the University of Washington, partly because I lacked practical information about career options. If I’d known the range of options and had access to transparent salary information, I would have likely chosen UW. Improving career guidance equitably can also reduce racial inequities by reducing the benefits of social network effects.

We must consider targeted encouragement for STEM majors and skills, particularly the vocational skills whose paucity has eroded this country’s manufacturing base: Although general relief may have value, decades of neoliberal policy by both Democratic and Republican administrations disproportionately decimated high paying blue-collar jobs critical to both workers in cities (disproportionately minorities) and in the rural heartland, reinforcing a cyclical decline in vocational training. This has ramifications on national security, trade, and America’s long-term economic competitiveness. In Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, a bipartisan group of STEM leaders propose a targeted grant program for undergraduate students. Such a program could also mitigate racial inequities since currently, STEM education is disproportionately selected by Asian Americans and whites. [1]

We must improve STEM education to continue America’s healthy innovation culture: It is graduate students who ultimately lead the next frontier of American progress in fields like artificial intelligence. Without a deep bench of American undergraduates with the necessary skills or good immigration policy, we may lose our global technology advantage.

Lastly, on a related note, I believe that Cory Booker’s S. 4480 on underfunded schools should be supported and receive more attention. Dr. Schrier, I hope you will consider pushing a similar bill in the House regarding underfunded schools. You don’t need to look far to see what common sense tells us: underfunded schools hurt our children, evidence of that abounds within our own state [4].

Thank you for considering my broad points of feedback here. We need serious reform, and I look forward to you leading on these issues in the House and the Senate.

Sincerely, Nitin Shyamkumar

  1. “Postsecondary Education: Undergraduate Degree Fields”. The Condition of Education, 2020. National Center for Education Statistics.
  2. “Tim Cook: China a leader in many fields.” China Daily, December 7, 2017
  3. Goldman, David P. “Foreword: The Reshoring Imperative.” American Compass, June 8, 2020.
  4. “#2 Cut Class Sizes In Half.” David Spring for WA State Superintendent of Education Campaign Website.