Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The 2012 Teaching Underground State of the Union Response

While the rest of the world is watching a Republican rebuttal to President Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address, the Teaching Underground believes that a teacher response is appropriate.  So as has become our annual custom, (since last year) here's our take on the President's remarks.

The President started off on the "good foot" with his choice of honored guests to join the first Lady in attendance tonight.  Sara Ferguson from the infamous Chester School district in Pennsylvania will join Michelle Obama for tonight's oration.  Ms. Ferguson teaches in a school district where teachers and their union decided to teach without pay.  Yes, the evil union decided that serving children was more important than their own sustenance, by continuing to do their jobs even though state and local government did not have the funds to pay them.  As with most teachers, we certainly will stand for fairness and appropriate working conditions, but the message to the public-- don't confuse our zeal for what's best for the students with self-interest and greed.

On to the speech.  The President's remarks are in italics, my comments follow each section.

Near the beginning of the speech, Obama proclaims that we are "A country that leads the world in educating its children." We don't hear that rhetoric on a national stage very often, I for one appreciate the sentiment.  Here's what followed in the President's speech regarding k-12 education:

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. 

1) Mr. Obama, most of us who follow the education news know of this $250,000 of which you speak, but haven't we done enough to discredit this study?  This "fact" would do much greater good if its purpose was to increase the respect and professionalism of teachers, but instead, this study has prompted an attack on the teaching profession.  Instead of promoting the importance of teachers, this study is being used to push for "getting rid of the bad ones."

2) A teacher can indeed offer an escape from poverty, but a good teacher will never be a guarantee of this escape.  How many people can point to a coach, pastor, relative, or other concerned adult in their life who made the difference in motivating them toward greater things?  We need to remember how influential we teachers can be, but our public needs to be aware that education alone is not the solution to poverty.

3) Most teachers do work tirelessly and today, instead of just a pat on the back, we would like "a place at the table."  Our goals are not self-promotion, greed, or an easier job.  We deal with children daily and believe that our expertise can lead American education policy in a positive direction.

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.

So now we get to the real meat of the issue.  What kind of deal do we offer schools?  Give them resources to keep good teachers on the job... and replace the one's who aren't helping kids learn.  How do we find these teachers, that's right, testing.  Isn't that the metric used by the researchers to determine the "good" teachers that increase classroom lifetime income by $250,000?  Rewards and threats of punishment, that's so 20th century Mr. Obama.  How about we give teachers the flexibility to teach with creativity and passion, to stop teaching to the test, BECAUSE "most teachers work tirelessly--just to make a difference." Trying to make a difference is the opposite of "defending the status quo."  

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.

That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States.

Just a few words, but that's what President Obama says to the nation about American k-12 education in 2012.  He received a warm response from the crowd for these remarks.  On the whole, they appear rather benign, but in today's political climate, government education policy seems to be driven by one major idea-- identify good teachers and reward them, remove obstacles for getting rid of bad teachers.  Identify those teachers by test scores that provide absolute measures of success regardless of outside factors.

If you think there's more to it than that, I'd love to hear your thoughts, these are just some intial thoughts on the President's comments.

Thanks for reading, that's the 2012 Teaching Underground teacher's response to the annual State of the Union Address.


  1. Good post. So let's get rid of burdensome legislation but add more on states with regards to education. The right things are said but do they actually believe them? My SOTU experience was diminished by the lengthy shot of Duncan and his smirk during some of the remarks on education.

  2. Left deflated again. Teachers mater but only if they can add wealth? For those playing reform bingo at home it was a tough game but he got most of the overused and misunderstood terms. Some good ideas but tempered with more hollow Arne talk. Only time will tell whether we get seated at the table.

  3. I believe he was merely making a statement on the impact a teacher can have on a nation in terms of adding value to our economy. Not discounting teachers or saying that creating productive individuals is teachers' only value. Rather, making the point relevant in business terms. Money talks.

  4. Keeping and rewarding good teachers, and replacing (or improving) less effective teachers should be something everyone agrees on, at least in principle. The hard part is how you define "good" and "effective" and how you measure it. It almost always comes back to test scores, and we know where THAT leads - just look at Atlanta Public schools.