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The 2011 State of Education? No Surprises Here

The 2011 State of Education? No Surprises Here

If educators were looking for some new directions in President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, they were disappointed.

President Obama: Strong Orator

Before I continue, let me say that I think Mr. Obama did a fine job with his speech; it was a steady speech, without too many stand-up-and-cheer moments. He invoked an America that we can be proud of, an exceptional country with many inspirational heroes.

The mood was somber at times, definitely because of Gabby GIffords’ empty seat, and perhaps because of those strange pairings of Democrats and Republicans. But it seemed that overall, his speech was well received.

Treat Teachers With Respect

But as a teacher, I was disappointed. True, Mr. Obama spoke about the importance of parental involvement: “Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and the homework gets done.” He also raised the issue that teachers in other countries are treated with the kind of respect that we don’t get in the U.S.

More Race To The Top

But then he started bragging about his administration’s accomplishments, and in particular Race To The Top(RTTT), the Department of Education’s signature program. While this initiative raises the issue of making schools accountable, which is a good thing, it also relies primarily on standardized test scores to achieve this goal, and that is definitely not a good thing.

In fact, this continues the policy laid down by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, in spite of the many complaints by teachers around the country that they are constantly forced to “teach to the test.”

No New Education Ideas

And yet Mr. Obama called RTTT “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation,” and announced that this “should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible.” With due respect, Mr. President, this does not make sense.

Call To Pass The Dream Act

Still, while there were no new ideas, the President’s final words on education were more inspirational: a strong appeal for the passage of the Dream Act. He spoke firmly and passionately: “Let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.”

What do you think? What kind of grade do you give Mr. Obama for his remarks on education?

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39 comments

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3:32PM PST on Jan 27, 2011

President Obama's goals for education fall short of the mark for ignoring some fundamental areas that have been totally neglected. Educating our children to compete with China is a very bad idea. China may have a short-term advantage now, but unless it wakes up, it will eventually burn itself out by exhausting its limited natural resources and choking on its pollution.We are now hung up on the "how to" areas of education but we are totally indifferent to the "why" areas. He followed the standard push for proficiency in the three r's and science, but left untouched the more important programs for developing decision-making ability: the study of history, logic and philosophy, the arts and courses that whet curiosity, the zest for living and the desire for learning. These are not unnecessary "frills"; they sharpen the brain and make the difference between turning out a nation of mindless technological hacks or creating a nation of inspired, innovative individuals who are capable of making the drastic changes that are needed to pull us out of the impossible mess that we are confronting. We need a well-informed electorate to make intelligent choices; otherwise it will continue to vote for incompetent leaders who take us in the wrong direction.

1:47AM PST on Jan 27, 2011

I was in the American school system in the 70s and early 80s. I think that educational requirements and expectations were different then. Kids nowadays are entering college not knowing how to spell - spelling atrociously - or to write in cursive. How does something so basic happen - and continue to happen - throughout the child's life so that they are sitting in the college classroom having missed out on not only that skill set, but also elementary facts about history, science, you name it?

I took the standardized SAT and ACT tests like everyone did then. I was an above average student but I faired poorly on those two tests. It discouraged me from going to college because our teachers told us that we needed high grades on those tests to get into a good school... and if I couldn't get into a good school, then why would I want to go at all?

But here I am, more than 25 years later, in the university in Europe and I am THE top student in my class... graduating this year. So, I am not a big fan of the standardized tests as accurate measurements of a child's abilities. I also think that they can discourage and can hurt the self-esteem of a child who has worked very hard or who has the potential to achieve great things.

No, I do not think that they're the answer. But, there is really no easy answer in this situation because the American school system is failing its students. Curriculum, teachers, the grading system, course literature, etc... it needs reforming.

10:53PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

The educational system in America is sorely in need of re-structuring. For decades too many students are graduating high school without the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills. The arts have been almost abolished in public schools. And there is no advancement in the teacher's abilities to address each and every students individual needs and skills.
Their testing is outdated. And the teachers who got "tenyear" after 2 years of service have been skating through their profession at the cost of children's futures. Remember, no mantter how menial a job may appear, i.e., mechanics, food handlers, maintenance people, basic care-givers, they affect us all as far as safety. All children, regardless of their economic position or I.Q.'s important and should be educated thus.

8:58PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

RTTT IS NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND CLOAKED IN OBAMA SPEAK. IT'S AN OUTLANDISH AND REDUNDANT APPROACH TO AN ENDEMICALLY BROKEN SYSTEM. EDUCATION IS IN THE HANDS OF INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE COMPLETELY OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE REALITIES OF EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES. ULTIMATELY IT BOILS DOWN TO AN ISSUE OF VALUES AND PUTTING YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS. TALK IS CHEAP.

6:56PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

Thank you Marilyn L. : ..."We must realize that all children are not going to be college candidates and we must give them a path to technical and business schools. Some of these kids just may not want to go to college, but for those that do we must make sure they are prepared for the challenges they will face when they get there. And our colleges and univerities, must make some changes. These institutions must start acting and performing as academic learning centers as appose to one big sorority. We have a long way to go to make education the priority it should be in this country but RTTT is a good beginning." I'm a retired high school teacher. There is not just ONE pathway for all students. We need to provide RIGOROUS academic education together with RIGOROUS career/technical eduction opportunities for all students. Back when we had a more or less "healthy economy" ~ 2+ years ago ~ the general statistics about jobs More than 80% of all skilled jobs require some post-high school training... i.e. 2 years of community college, etc. etc. Only 20% of skilled jobs require 4+ years of university training. Why PUSH everyone to go to the big "U", when only 20% ( or less ) of the available jobs require Bachelors, Masters, Doctorate, etc. degrees.

4:42PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

Robert M, I disagree with part of your "states rights" stance on education. 50 different systems with 50 sets of priorities doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. A "harmonized" system that is flexible enough to accommodate local needs does make sense to me. I should not have to itemize expected benefits to the entire nation from a harmonized educational process. My list would not cover half of them anyway.

4:34PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

All for education when it means something. It took 40-50 years to get us into this mess. That is about how long our national priorities have been derailed.

4:24PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

As a public school classroom teacher I have strongly opposed NCLB since its inception. Yes, parents and the community at large deserve testing reports, but to rely on purely standardized test results is such an unbalanced view of a child's as well as a school's total performance...failing grades from NCLB have not raised much but ire, frustration and despair...

4:06PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

Like Mary A., I am a "states-righter" when it comes to education policies and funding. However, I still think the Federal Gov. can play a helpful "umpire role" to make sure that children across the nation, in every state and every locality are getting a high quality education. The problem is the government has taken a "cookie-cutter approach" in acting as if the same program or kind of program should be successful in every locality instead of allowing for the operation of local genius. Yes, there are some basic principles that need to be reinforced, but overall the states need to take back more control of government. One place where the Feds might monitor the states is to make sure that states are investing equitably in schools for all kinds of neighborhoods, regardless of racial, ethnic, income level, etc. Perhaps some kind of appeal process could be established for localities that feel that they have been denied an equitable share of resources.

3:59PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

I agree with Marilyn L. that tenure does not seem appropriate for teachers in K-8 or perhaps K-12, however necessary it is for university level. If tenure for K-12 is eliminated, then certain protections would have to be put in place to ensure that teachers are not ousted from their positions for political reasons or because they have taken unpopular stands in the community.

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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