Three Ways to Make a Difference For Public Education in 2014

The most important thing we can do to restore equal opportunity in our nation is strengthen public education.

It's been a little over five years since a financial crisis pushed our economy to the brink of disaster. Thankfully we didn't fall into the abyss, but the recovery hasn't been equally shared among all Americans. While long term unemployment remains perilously high and middle class families struggle to pay their bills, a fortunate few enjoy unprecedented prosperity.

It's not our imagination; inequality in America really is growing wider. In fact, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality recently reported that the U.S. now ranks third among all advanced nations in the level of income inequality. This dangerous trend threatens our country's stability and one of our most important valuesour commitment to equal opportunity for every person. That's why President Obama recently called inequality the most serious threat to the American Dream.

The most important thing we can do to restore equal opportunity in our nation is strengthen public education. Most educators work hard and do a great job, but we can't do everything that's necessary by ourselves. Here are three ways that every American can help:

1. Get involved in your local school. If you are a parent or grandparent, attend meetings with teachers and join the PTA. Even if you don't have a child in school, you might be able to help by tutoring students, planting a garden, fixing up the playground or ball fields. Some communities have special days for volunteers to paint or do other projects at schools. Find a way to get involved.

2. Do something to help kids in your community. There are now 17 states in which at least half of the public school students come from low-income families, and they have a lot more needs than teachers and other school staff can meet. These children need mentors, they need coaches, they need programs that offer constructive activities in their neighborhoods. Sometimes they need health care, or their families need food pantries. There are a lot of ways to helpjust do something!

3. This is an election year. Don't assume that every candidate supports public education, because some don't. There is a powerful push today for a corporate takeover of our schools, and some politicians back this agenda. Ask candidates whether they will work with educators to help students succeed. Demand that all schools have adequate resources to give every student the kind of education they’ll need to succeed in the 21st century. You might even want to check out NEA's, which follows education issues.

Whatever you do, don't sit out this election just because it's not a presidential year. Too many people did that in 2010especially young votersand some states wound up with governors and legislatures that have proven hostile to public education.

As the world recently mourned Nelson Mandela and reflected on his amazing accomplishments, I was especially moved by his words about poverty: "Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice."

That statement rings true for gross inequality, too. Narrowing the huge gaps between Americans isn’t just a nice thing to doit's the right thing to do, the only just course of action. It can only happen if we all do our part to provide equal opportunities in education.

Students studying at desks image via Shutterstock


Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.