The ‘race to educate our kids’

Education was a major theme of President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

. . .  if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us – as citizens, and as parents – are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

Parents are the primary educators, he said.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Too many schools are not places of “high expectations and high performance,” the president said.

That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.  To all fifty states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than one percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. These standards were developed, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.

You see, we know what’s possible for our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities.

Obama praised the transformation of a Denver high school, Bruce Randolph, which was “rated one of the worst schools in Colorado.”

. . . last May, 97% of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their family to go to college. And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said “Thank you, Mrs. Waters, for showing… that we are smart and we can make it.”

After parents, teachers have the biggest impact on a child’s success, he said.

In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.  And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you.

The president called for a five-year spending freeze but proposed spending more on education to “win the future,” writes Education Week.

“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine,” Obama said. “It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.”

. . . He did not propose any new initiatives for revising the nine-year-old No Child Left Behind Act. Instead, he reiterated his commitment to changing it.

The president is staying the course on education, writes Russ Whitehurst.  “This means more federal dollars and more federal control.”

The president’s “clichés were sensible,” writes Rick Hess, who appreciated the paean to the family and the lack of calls for new spending or new programs.

Much of the education section was rehashed or “feel-goody,” according to Sara Mead, who wants more on reauthorizing No Child Left Behind. She predicts Obama will focus on higher education in 2011.

There wasn’t much substance, responds Andrew Rotherham, but there were signals Obama won’t approve a “deal that trades an education win for the administration for a weakening of the law’s rules protecting poor and minority students in suburban schools.” In choosing a school to praise, the president “singled-out a Denver school that was turned around only after its teachers took on their own union to get out from under the standard collective bargaining agreement.”

Don’t compromise education reform by watering down No Child Left Behind, argues Kati Haycock of Education Trust.

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  1. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.

    Schools *CAN* have parents sign contracts stipulating completion of homework and agreeing to avoid media during the school year. Many charter schools do the former, and most Waldorf schools do the latter. There just needs to be the political will to require these kinds of contracts and to enforce them.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I submit that “enforcing” those contracts is next to impossible. The evidentiary problems alone stagger the mind, and there are some troublesome issues about parents contracting for a child’s behavior.

    The best a school could do is to say “The homework wasn’t turned in” (which isn’t the same as saying it wasn’t completed) and on that basis, expel the child. But some charter schools won’t be able to do even that.

  3. “Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree”….To the extent that this forecast is true, how many of these jobs will require post-high-school education because of the failure of the k-12 schools to teach what they normally would have been expected to teach a generation ago? How many require post-high-school education (college, usually) merely as a signaling device to manage the flood of resumes, rather than for any genuine knowledge need?

    These questions have been widely discussed, and a truly thoughtful leader would consider and address them as part of any remarks on national education policy. But Barack Obama is a man captured by the trendy phrases of a couple of decades ago, and is not interested in either facts or in serious thought and analysis.

  4. I’m with David on this one; high schools are not graduating kids with HS-grad knowledge and skills in basic academics, let alone the kind of vocational options that existed well into the 70s. I live in a community where many kids would choose voc ed options (a) if they were available and (b) if “college for all” wasn’t shoved down their throats. Also, the Duke Power decision essentially killed the option of using aptitude tests to sort applicants; a function now left to CCs and colleges.

  5. Chartermom says:

    Vent on

    So RttT is the ” most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation”. Then why is my school district using a few hundred thousand of their funds to purchase iPads for middle school students at three low performing schools (two middle and one elementary)? Really — giving them fancy new trendy technology that can easily be lost, stolen or broken and will be (not might be) outdated in three years is “meaningful reform”? And I’m sure that my school district is not the only one doing something equally flashy.

    Meanwhile although my sons’ high school has located a qualified science teacher to handle a semester’s worth of classes while a teacher is on maternity leave, they can only pay sub pay (which is hourly and just slightly above minimum wage) which the qualified teacher isn’t willing to accept. That is understandable as she would be responsible for class prep, grading, parent conferences, etc for the semester. So for want of probably no more than $10K to $15K (what should be the difference between sub pay and teacher pay) the students lose out.

    It’s not that we aren’t spending enough money on education, it’s that we’re spending it on the wrong things!

    Vent off

  6. I’m a little irritated about his call to spend more money to hire science and math teachers – there’s a shortage of qualified teachers in those areas. What are we supposed to do, create them out of thin air?

    Probably more of what we do already – hire from abroad. The kids generally don’t like the foreign teachers; they think they’re racially biased, hard to understand, and not familiar with American norms.

  7. It is clearly a victory for the President of the United States to dedicate so much of his SOTU address to discussing the importance and value of education. We must recognize this. As a high school teacher who is dedicated to helping my community and the nation as a whole recognize the explicit link between education and economics, we must praise the President’s rejection of the short-sightedness of cutting funding for education.
    That being said, the move to a “competitive funding” model, like the one found in Race to the Top, that gives more money to Districts and States who assimilate, rather than the ones who have the greatest need, is foolish, and it is up to the Education Community to hold President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s feet to the fire.