K-12 education in the State of the Union address

Let’s get right into it, shall we?

First up are higher standards.  President Obama argued,

For less than one percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning— the first time that’s happened in a generation.

Even though states adopted reforms that improved their chances to receive Race to the Top funds, Obama did not do much to raise standards for teaching and learning through RttT.  For example, as part of RttT, the federal government incentivized states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, but there is no consensus that the CCSS represent higher standards for the 45 or so states that signed on to the program.

In the next section, Obama addresses the teaching profession,

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies— just to make a difference.

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

This passage was a rollercoaster ride for Obama’s teacher union allies.  Increasing funding and flexibility for teachers excited them, the performance pay recommendation angered them, his “stop teaching to the test” remark encouraged them, and his proposal to replace bad teachers worried them.  Judging from the response on Twitter, Obama’s supporters in the education community appreciated the consolation but did not want to take his “deal.”

Obama’s dropout prevention strategy was a head scratcher.

We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.

There is little evidence that raising the compulsory attendance age will keep more kids in school.  Regardless, I suspect that states will have to raise their compulsory attendance age to be competitive in the next round of Race to the Top grants.  The NC State Board of Education has toyed with this idea for years, but the promise of more federal money would be enough to convince the SBE to ask the General Assembly to make the change.

Speaking of federal money, Obama declared,

I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States. That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work. That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a Government program.

It is hard to believe that Obama, apparently a Lincoln Democrat, genuinely wants greater state/local control of education.  After all, Race to the Top, like No Child Left Behind, is a classic carrot and stick federal program.  I assume that the “competition” mentioned above is a reference to competition between states for federal RttT funds.

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