Obama: Educate for high-tech economy

High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.

Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. (The sinister Gates Foundation has been a major funder of dual enrollment.) Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.

“A Race to the Top-style grant program for high school curriculum” may raise hackles, notes Ed Week. Conservatives — and some liberals — are unhappy with the administration’s use of funding power to push states to adopt Common Core standards, which was supposed to be a state initiative.   Now Obama’s admitting that’s what Race to the Top did and asking for more money and power over curriculum.

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  1. Do you really think that the American people will agree to a placement/survey/cognitive placement test in the 8th grade?

    Because that’s what the Europeans do to determine high school tracks. Yes, that’s right; in Europe, high school is tracked. Only about 20% of the people earn the pre-reqs necessary to attend college. Given what disparate impact studies would show, would anything like that be implemented in this country? Not likely.

    Do you think the colleges are ready for 40% drop in students? Not likely.

    More fatuous hot air from this president.

    Big College and teacher’s unions will riot, if Obama’s Dept’t of Education gets anywhere near implementing even a pilot program that would do the preseident’s stated goal.

  2. Mike,

    As a general rule, ‘tracking’ or ‘grouping students by ability’ is a dirty word in public education. That being said, many students don’t have the actual math and science skills they need to succeed in a STEM career.

    As a general rule, most community colleges offer programs in sonography/radiography, Automotive Tech, HVAC, Nursing, but in a realistic sense, many students who want to gain entry to these programs do not have the required core knowledge in math/science/and writing/grammar even to be accepted.

    I’ve personally watched persons who want to get into medical careers struggle with english to metric conversions, basic math, and we won’t even go into algebra, which if you can’t handle it, you’ll never make it into these programs, and as a side note, for a nursing student, you’ll never pass the nursing licensing exam without a solid knowledge of at least algebra.

    Of course, this would require a drastic change in how we as a nation teach math to students in elementary school (grades 1-5) in order to prepare them to have the OPTION to succeed in a STEM field, if they choose to go that route.

    • I’ve taught nursing students, and agree about the problem with math skills. I wonder, though, if instead of pushing them through a college prep track, they were on a path that had algebra late in high school, or as a 2-year sequence, they could master it. Master algebra would certainly be more helpful to them than ‘faking’ trig and other college prep material. They wouldn’t need to test for which track, as much as just not move ahead until they had completed the previous material. I thought that a lot of my students might have made good nurses, and was always frustrated that they weren’t prepared for college level work.

      • Anyone with the inherent ability to pass the nursing license exam would have no problem with real HS math through algebra II, IF they had had a good, properly taught, math curriculum in ES and MS. The problem starts in ES and it dooms far too many kids who are perfectly capable of learning math.

        Widespread adoption of programs with the horrendous deficiencies of Everyday Math and its cousins only made sense once someone told me that they had been specifically designed for the heterogeneous, full-inclusion classroom. Since no one has to master anything, the fantasy that all are learning is enable. “Trust the spiral”

        • “Trust the spiral”

          … to lead you in circles.  We need to make that a meme.

          • That should have been “enabled.” SteveH has commented repeatedly on the evils of spiral math curricula and calls it “repeated partial learning” – too right. In far too many schools, the only kids who are mastering k-6 arithmetic are those with parents who (1) recognize the problem and (2) have the ability to tutor or provide tutoring. All others are pretty much doomed by 5th grade; unlikely to reach the point that CC or vo tech careers are possible. Many, if not most, demand mastery of algebra and geometry.

        • Everyday Math and its spiral cousins should be banned in the USA. I’m actually beginning to wonder if it’s not destroying students’ math abilities by DESIGN…

    • This also makes me wonder, does the IQ needed for most modern fields of work today far outpace the average IQ of most of the general population? So, are we going to end up with a permanant gap between jobs open and people that can actually fill them in our society? If so, I’m sure we can find the necessary people with the necessary skills out of country, but what are we going to do with all these millions of average to below average IQ citizens who no longer have jobs – even simple jobs that can support a family meagearly – out there to find?

      • There may be jobs that require a higher IQ, but most of my students were certainly smart enough to do the math, had they ever been taught the basics properly. With some, the 3 weeks of practice in lab was enough. They were also able to learn new material that didn’t depend on them already knowing those skills. I know that the bigger problem is basic K-8 skills, but I thing that a more intensive arithmetic/algebra series in high school might help the students who are at that point now – we can’t send them back to first grade, but maybe we could help them to be competent at the math that they are most likely to need.

  3. Elim,

    I don’t know about most fields, but in my field of I.T (information security, malware, etc), I don’t think a high I.Q. is required, but the ability to process information, critically think and analyze data, and be able to troubleshoot are skills which are inherent to any STEM type job.

    That being said, I don’t use math harder than Add, Subtract, Multiply, Divide, and Modulus (remainder portion of a integer division) and perhaps base conversions between binary (base 2), octal (base 8), decimal (base 10), and hexadecimal (base 16).

    These skills can be learned, but unfortunately, many students are doomed in math starting in Elementary School.