I have to admit disappointment. President Obama is a fantastic orator and his speech tonight was delivered with fire and enthusiasm. But where was education? He did a fine job of both listing the ways in which this country is falling behind and in prescribing remedies to help propel us forward economically and socially. (I’ll leave out for now my frustration that some of those solutions included “opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development” and “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants.”) He discussed financial reform, spoke about jobs being his number one focus, about improving exports, and building the infrastructure of tomorrow. He did all of this before he even got to the topic of education. Today’s young people ARE the future; if we do not educate them for the 21st century, then none of these grandiose plans can move forward. “Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people,” were President Obama’s words. Why only fourth?
Once he got to education, there was nary a mention of preK, even though our president has been a supporter of early childhood education in the past. Seventy percent of our nation’s three- and four-year-olds currently have no access to publicly-funded prekindergarten. That’s a disgrace. I’m disppointed that the President didn’t mention our youngest students tonight.
He did pledge to end “the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans” and instead give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college, and also to increase Pell grants. He also reached out to college students, promising them breaks on their student loans, while chastising colleges and universities about their enormous costs. That’s all good.
When the President launched into K-12 education, he spoke of investing in “reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many yound Americans.” All this involves more money, so despite a heavy emphasis on fiscal discipline throughout most of his speech, it seems that President Obama will announce an increase of $4 billion in education spending next week when he presents his budget. This will apparently include $1.35 billion in additional Race to the Top funding, and $1 billion in helping push the administration’s goals for the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Perhaps this aggressive increase in education spending is intended to deflect criticism over Obama’s broader call for a three-year freeze in non-security discretionary spending, which would include popular domestic programs. But not all educators believe the Race to the Top, with its emphasis on increasing the number of charter schools, streamlining tests and curriculum, and linking teacher and principal to student test scores, is the best track to reform. And the No Child Left Behind Act (the most recent incarnation of ESEA) has come under such heavy criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as teachers, parents, administrators and students across the country, that it’s difficult to see how it can be salvaged.
President Obama, I applaud your decision to increase education spending. But I’m disappointed that you feel a “one size fits all” is the right approach to education.