Parents across the country have raised alarm about President Obama’s planned “back to school” address to American students. When the Department of Education released a lesson plan that included asking youngsters—how can you help President Obama?—parents’ concern that their children were being “organized” for political purposes was justified.

Since Thursday, the Department of Education’s “lesson plans” have been scrubbed of potentially political questions. When President Obama speaks to American students later today, we’re likely to hear a positive message that few will disagree with—about the need for students to stay in school, work hard, and take responsibility for getting a quality education. Here’s hoping that students take that message to heart.

Unfortunately, there are serious reasons for American parents to be outraged as kids’ head back to school—for reasons that the President isn’t talking about much at all these days.

This year, American taxpayers will spend $10,000 per-student on the average students’ public school education this year. A kindergartener starting school this year can expect to have $100,000 spent on his or her education.

Yet for millions of kids, this six-figure investment will lead to dismal results.

National test scores show that less than half of all American students are proficient in reading or math. At least a quarter of all students drop out of high school. In many big cities, fewer than half earn high school diplomas. International test scores show that American teenagers are well-behind their peers in many other countries.

Who is responsible for this widespread and unacceptable failure? Well, the list is long. For starters, there are the special interest groups—led by the teachers unions—that continue to use their considerable political muscles to ensure that public education employees’ interests are placed above children’s interests. Then, there are the politicians that continue to cave in to these special interest groups, denying or delaying promising reforms that we know will improve children’s learning opportunities.

But it’s too easy to simply blame the self-interested unions and politicians lacking courage. The truth of the matter is that our nation’s educational failure is everyone’s responsibility. We all should share the blame, because we all have a voice in this debate.

If we fail to raise our voices on behalf of educational opportunity, millions of children will continue to pass through our nation’s schools without reaching their potential.

So as students start another school year, here’s some homework for adults: Become informed and make your voice heard in debates about education. Learn about what we’re spending on our public schools and what we’re seeing in terms of student performance. Follow is the education debates in the state legislature and on the local school board. Write a letter to the editor and make your opinions known. Challenge your elected representatives and demand that they put the interests of kids’ ahead of the special interest groups.

It will take hard work, but if enough people get involved and demand serious reform, we can open the doors of educational opportunity to all American children. The future of millions of children and the United States depends on it.