WASHINGTON – As the presidential race began heating up earlier this summer, neat rows of empty school desks lined the bottom side of the Washington Monument on the National Mall during a June event to draw attention to the national dropout rate and the need to keep education on the political agenda.
The 857 desks present on the Mall represented the number of students nationwide who drop out of high school every hour of each school day. Each year, 1.2 million students drop out, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. The public display was a part of the College Board’s national campaign to elevate education in the presidential campaign, which will continue through Election Day in November. The national grassroots effort will provide students and others who are concerned about education with a vehicle to press for education to be a priority.
“We want to elevate the issue of education,” said Peter Kauffmann, College Board vice president of communications. “In the months ahead, we want voters to be part of the process as they sign petitions and go to town hall meetings asking the candidates about their position on education. From there it will make it into the presidential debates. The bottom line is that it needs to be on the agenda.”
The public installation on the National Mall launched the national campaign to spotlight the crisis in American education through the “Don’t Forget Ed” campaign, designed to place a greater emphasis on education during the 2012 campaign. Local college students collected names for the petition drive on the National Mall with more than 21,000 signatures collected during the launch of the campaign.
Kauffman said the College Board’s petition will be delivered to both presidential candidates. “Being here at the National Mall, the empty desks [help] you see what it actually looks like and it really drives the point home. This is a situation That needs to be addressed,” he said.
A survey conducted by the College Board Identified education as the sleeper issue of the campaign and those polled, particularly in swing states, believe it should receive more attention. The College Board Swing State Education Survey released in April revealed that education is a top issue for voters in this year’s elections, ranked only behind jobs and the economy and on par with government spending. In addition, 70 percent of independent women in swing states believe that “education is extremely important” in this year’s elections.
“The message voters are sending to candidates is clear: ‘Don’t Forget Ed,’” said College Board President Gaston Caperton, who formerly served as governor of West Virginia. “People in every region of this country and from all economic backgrounds feel that education is getting short shrift in this campaign. They want the candidates to give more time and attention to their plans for improving educational opportunities in America.”
High school senior Merone Tesfaye is participating in the campaign as a student spokesperson for the issue. “Every hour students are dropping out,” said Tesfaye who is a graduating senior from New York’s LaGuardia High School. “They represent the future of America. Every student who doesn’t get an education impacts the U.S. and its ability to be a leading nation.”
According to the College Board:
• Individuals with only a high school diploma are about twice as likely to be unemployed as those with a college degree.
• Forty-four percent of high school dropouts under 24 are jobless.
• By the end of eighth grade, U.S. students are two grades behind in the math being studied by peers in other countries.
• Increasing the high school completion rate by just 1 percent for all men age 20 to 60 would save the U.S. up to $1.4 billion per year through reduced crime rates.
The campaign website, www.dontforget.org, offers videos, opportunities to sign the petition, education statistics, and information to Tweet your favorite influencer to support education. In addition, the campaign includes a social media rally to be held on August 15 on Facebook. Founded in 1900, the nonprofit College Board was created to expand access to higher education. The membership association is made up of more than 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions.