Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The 2014 Official Teaching Underground Response to the State of the Union

It's that time of year again. It's our annual custom to respond to the President's annual State of the Union Address. It looks like this year there's going to be three official responses. Not just the Republican response, but the Tea Party response and a response from Rand Paul. This rebuttal business is getting pretty competitive.

So he starts with this:
"Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades." 
Well, not this teacher, but I did spend extra time with another teacher. A first year teacher, 23 years old, part-time, splitting his days every morning teaching high school then driving down the street to the local middle school to teach two seventh grade classes. He'd prefer working full time at one school, but this is the best we can do for him. It's about what's best for the kids though, right?

Is that really all he's going to say about education?

Oh, wait, here it is:

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.

Race to the Top? Too often, raising expectations looks more like making the tests more "difficult." Not rigorous or particularly valid, just harder. And along with raising the expectations, where is the support to raise the quality of instruction? That last sentence is dead on though. If only we could find the legs to make that idea actually move.

I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.

That's comforting. Our elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists have done a stand-up job so far in reforming education.

Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.

I don't care what you think about technology, it's advancing. Quickly. The better and faster we take care of closing the gaps of access, the better off our kids will be. I think our nation will suffer if this is a gap that we allow to grow.

We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.

Vocational education has suffered in the last twenty years. The vocational ed of the 20th century doesn't do much for 21st century students, but we need to acknowledge the reality that not everyone will go to college and give them the tools to succeed right out of high school.

That's all for k-12 education. But he did end this section of the speech with this: But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

I like that. It seems to acknowledge that the struggles of the American economy is not the fault of our public education system and that we can't look solely to the public education system as the solution to our economic woes. If more people would realize this and see education for what it is-- an integral and vital piece of American society, but just that, a piece, not the single driving factor-- we'd start looking for more holistic solutions instead of scapegoating.

And that's the State of the Union, at least as far as the Teaching Underground is concerned.

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