Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The TU Rebuttal to the POTUS SOTU

Yes, we're teachers, and teachers love acronyms- well, maybe not, but we sure do learn to live with them. So welcome the the 2013 Teaching Underground rebuttal to the President of the United States' State of the Union Address.

 I'm admittedly cold toward the President's education agenda this year. With our own state governor, Bob McDonnell appearing side by side with Louisiana's own Bobby Jindal, I think that Virginia has enough to worry about with state education policy without trying to smell what the Feds are cooking. If you haven't formally done so already, be sure to roll out the carpet and welcome the corporate reform agenda to Virginia education politics.

 Despite the state of our State, we've made an annual tradition out of rebutting the President's education comments during the State of the Union Address. I think the Tea Party has already offered their rebuttal before the speech is even delivered. We've kept a little more decorum on this platform and waited until the words were uttered from Mr. President's mouth. So without anymore hesitation, our fellow Americans, here's our thoughts: (Words of the President in italics)

  It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

Good start Mr. President.

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program...  lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America... So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.

More praise from the TU on your remarks here Mr. President. The path to equal opportunity begins early. It is not enough to simply open the door for our children unless we've prepared them to walk through it.

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. 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. 

I don't think that high school is an "employment agency" but neither is it a stepping stone to academia. High school is the place where emerging adults grow into themselves and launch into the world of adulthood. I like the language of putting our kids on a path to a good job, whether that is through employment immediately after graduation, post high school training programs, or further education in college. But in order to fulfill the President's words in this statement, we must begin to take career and technical education as serious as college preparatory education in America. Neither should gain at the expense of the other.

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. 

Please don't pass off Race to the Top as a success. And as for convincing almost every state, it was more like coercion. You abused executive power to bypass legislative inefficiency to get your way. Not one of your better moments. I'm wary of the use of rewards from your administration because it doesn't fall far from manipulation and usurpation of local control of education. But, I appreciate seeing the reward focused on input more than output. Partnerships as you speak of might be a positive movement into the 21st century.

 Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt. Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

I would have normally omitted this part of the speech as it focuses more on college policy, but the last sentence struck me after reading Ken Bernstein's piece on the Washington Post Answer Sheet earlier this week. He warns college professors that they're beginning to receive the products of the "No Child Left Behind Generation." I would add to the warning that what has become of k-12 education in regards to test-based accountability and corporate driven reform is creeping into the arena of higher education as well. The "scorecard" idea sounds appealing, but I'm apprehensive that attempts to "measure" or "grade" quality in these institutions may drive higher education to value what is measurable more than continuing to pursue immeasurable goals of true value.

My personal "SOTU Scorecard", I'd give the President a B on tonight's address. In the field of education, C+. The rhetoric is not so bad, but I'd like to see the action behind it for a real evaluation. The President has expressed concern over the role of excessive testing in k-12 education and nothing in this address appears to increase or reduce the burden of testing. His comments do veer toward the positives in our system and ways to build upon success more than looking toward the negative.

In light of the political movement in Virginia education policy during the last two legislative sessions, most anything the President says would be an improvement. That's a wrap for this years analysis. I'd love to comment on the economy, gun control, world poverty, and many other notable items discussed by the President, but that's a topic for lunch tomorrow. Education is all you get from the Underground.


  1. I think a more interactive method of delivery would be a sign of the times. Maybe "flip" the chamber and have the members read the speech in small groups research and then debate the merits of the proposals. We could then assess them based on a set of questions that are unrelated to what they did and include nothing meaningful that will help them in any way. For the record I am not sure Rubio read the right speech...

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