Education = Opportunity

Too many of America’s children grow up without the skills needed to thrive in the twenty-first century. Low levels of performance among the most disadvantaged create long-term problems, particularly in an economy in which higher skill levels are more and more valued and the wages available to less-skilled workers are deteriorating. Inequality persists.

In the photo above, I am in 9th grade, posing with the neighborhood gang's graffiti. I grew up in Downtown LA in an 800-square foot apartment building. The kids in my neighborhood were routinely involved in drugs and gangs. Teen pregnancy was a huge issue. My family was on welfare. Ours was a five-kid, one-parent household. And I was a direct beneficiary of the programs where the city reinvested in at-risk youth programs.

When I was in 12th grade, I was hired to work at a courthouse, and I was paid through the Joint Training Partnership Act which aimed to keep at-risk youth off the streets. The courthouse positioned me in a job where I was assisting a judge.

The judge was a woman who kindly drove me home after work every day. She would ask me what my plans were for after high school. I had no plans for doing anything after high school except getting a job. She became my first mentor. She is the one who made me see the value of an education. That judge made the biggest impact in my life because she was a workers' compensation judge and today, I own the largest workers' compensation counseling center in California. I am an entrepreneur, and this has made all the difference in my life. If it were not for that program, how could I have gotten a job at that courthouse as a kid? How would I be exposed to judges and lawyers and witness another way of living life? That would never have happened.

Reducing inequality in the educational system will not be simple, but experts suggest the following:

  1. Determine a clear strategy to improve the education experience for all students. Other countries with strong educational systems have instituted clear, carefully thought-through strategies with reduction of inequality in mind.
  2. Put a focus on teachers as the central force for change in the education system. When teachers are paid a comfortable living wage, their students benefit too.
  3. Equalize the share of resources among all school systems. Currently, American schools in higher-income regions see the benefit of higher tax revenues, creating more advantages for them alone.
  4. Give special attention to at-risk schools and districts. Many schools are starting from a place of deep disadvantage. Policies should favor these schools to monitor and ensure major progress.

Investing in education pays off. I am evidence of that.

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