State of the Union, State of Education: The Ups and Downs of Obama’s Speech

Obama at the State of the Union Address

On January 24th, our President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union address. Now, we can argue back and forth about what was said and if the proposed policies are sound. And we will… in a moment. First, I want to give a shout out to our President for once again speaking well. It’s refreshing, to say the least, to have a leader who delivers speeches in such an engaging manner.

Now, on to the nitty gritty. Obama said a lot about a lot that night. Here’s the blow by blow of what he said about education.
  • The good news: every state in the country has agreed to raise their standards in education (i.e. the Common Core Standards)
  • A declaration: “Teachers matter.”
  • Proposal #1: Give schools the proper resources and reward the best of our army of teachers.
  • Proposal #2: Every student stays in high school until they graduate or turn 18.
  • Proposal #3: Colleges work to keep costs down. In the words of the President himself, “Higher education can’t be a luxury -– it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Sounds pretty good, right? The Common Core Standards (for those who may not know) are new standards for education. The way it used to be is that 3rd graders and Mississippi and 3rd graders in California might be held to different standards of learning and might be learning the different things. The Obama administration wants to be able to say: “3rd grades in the United States need to know this and that by the end of 3rd grade.” And teachers, principals, schools all over the country are held to the same quality standard. It’s a fabulous idea and I’m glad to hear that all states have agreed to it. (Remember, handling education is a state’s right.)

     “Teachers matter.” What simple yet wonderful statement. I cannot say enough how much we need to value our teachers. They shape the future of this country every day with what they do in their classrooms. I’m not saying we can’t criticize our teachers but it should be constructive criticism. Why not propose solutions in addition to pointing out problems? Let’s also not forget the good–most Americans have at least one teacher that encouraged or inspired them in some way.
     Give schools the proper resources and reward the best of our army of teachers. One of the phrases I loved most throughout Obama’s campaign was “army of teachers.” That’s really what they are. Right now, teachers in the Chester-Upland School District (PA) are basically teaching for free. They are soldiers in a war against educational inequity. I am all for giving schools and teachers the proper gear and ammunition to fight that war properly.
     Every student stays in high school until they graduate or turn 18. This actually makes perfect sense to me. Who came up with 16 as the magic number anyway? If you’re old enough to vote, get married, join the army, and have a non-provisional driver’s license (in most states), you’re probably old enough to make the decision to drop out of school. On the flip side of this, however, we cannot expect young people to stay in failing schools for a longer period of time just because. In order to make this proposal effective, it has to be coupled with a plan to bring up failing schools and to make education engaging every day.
     Last proposal: Colleges work to keep costs down. Obama’s right…higher education can’t be a luxury anymore. It’s a requirement for most jobs right now. Fifty years ago, the standard was the high school diploma. Now it’s the college degree. Most people can’t justify going to college if they really cannot afford it and all they see is thousands of dollars in debt as a result. This one is much easier said than done though.
     Colleges are now pretty confused about the actual plan to lower costs and scared about the seeming threat to pull federal funding. This proposal sounds good, but definitely needs to be fleshed out some more. And college administrators need to be included in the conversation or it probably won’t work. One question I would ask is: how does this plan keep private schools accountable? Most of the articles I’ve read focus on public schools, which depend on federal funding. What about the private schools?
     Overall, it was a well-prepared, well-delivered speech. There are just (as usual) some issues with implementation. What do you think? Leave comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.