Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of the Union 2014

While I did not watch last night, I did follow the conversation on Twitter (try #SOTU and #SOTUedu). The White House posted the full text here
The big questions beforehand were: would he mention Race to the Top? would he mention Common Core?
He started (to much reaction from teachers on the web) with a shout out to teachers:
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.
Okay, list of Americans; you get a pass from me on rhetorical flourishes. The bulk of the education section--after economy and the environment--starts here:
 Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids...
Then he talks about college loans, which is generally beyond the scope of this blog, but I agree with those who think this could have been a great chance to talk about loan forgiveness (and if you haven't read this piece about how we could make public college free for everyone, you should).
Here's where some people lost their bets on if he'd mention Race to the Top (smart money was that he would, as he has every year):
 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.
Oh,, Mr. President, it didn't. Even setting aside the debate over what exactly RTTT did to expectations (always a dicey thing to prove), you're way too early to talk about RTTT doing anything about performance. The Common Core just got implemented. Most of the tests haven't been used yet. It's simple cause and effect: changes take time. About all that's happened is a whole lot of money has been spent. And you should really read Bruce Baker  and Tom Loveless on what you can tell from NAEP results (surely we've got someone in the Department of Education doing that?).
And you caught that STEM mention, right?
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.  But it’s worth it – and it’s working. 
Ah, "more challenging curriculums". Sorry, if you bet that he would say "Common Core," you lost. That's as close as he gets. Notice that it's plural, because it's not a national curriculum; as we keep being told, it's a set of national standards.
Regarding the "curriculums" versus "curricula" debate, please see Kory Stamper on "octopi." 
"(M)ore demanding parents" is echoing his Secretary of Education who earlier this month essentially went after parental expectations of education as the new shadow enemy keeping our children from international excellence. That was in the same speech where Duncan derided the number of teachers who come from particular parts of the college graduating class, though, so the parental piece didn't get much coverage.
On bubble tests, we've been hearing for years that President Obama doesn't like them, and yet:

Not sure where the fivefold is; suffice to say it's getting worse rather than better.
On "worth it and working" please see above regarding Race to the Top. Also note the large number of demoralized teachers, the crisis in local education funding, and the one in four children in the U.S. living in poverty--all, I would argue, of significant import in talking about education and if and where it's working.
The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time.  That has to change. 
Yes! Absolutely!
Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education.  Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old.  As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own.  They know we can’t wait.  
Okay, no argument there, EXCEPT that starting with three year olds is already granting a major gap among kids. We've got to go earlier and work with families. However:
 So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children.  And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, 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.
Not. Another. Race to the Top.
We're talking about three and four year olds. We are having absurd conversations about "performance" about TODDLERS. Have any of the people making these decisions talked to a four or a three year old lately?
We're going to have another competition for funding? Are we not sick--and I mean that literally--of this pitting of children and their educations against each other yet?
And, oh, look who we're going to ask to help: elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists. Three groups--and I say this as part of one of them--that have demonstrated that they know a ridiculously small amount about what education needs, whilst having a ridiculous inflated sense of how much they know. WRONG CHOICE, Mr. President. It won't get you bold-faced names, but how about asking some preschool teachers? some parents of preschoolers? some child development specialists? some pediatricians?
You know, people who know about kids?
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. 
Great, super, but the cynic in me points out that Verizon, Sprint and others are part of the reason that this has been hard and wonders what exactly they all want in exchange. And there are some things that government should pay for.
Then back to higher ed again--with an encouraging note about keeping young men of color on track (we'll have to see what that looks like)--before:
The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. 
It's pretty clear that the President and Mrs. Obama had a lot going for them in terms of family support as they were growing up. It's not at all clear to me that he or his administration realize what a difference this makes in what happens to kids, or that he or they wish to do what they can for kids who don't have that.
Not to mention that the education that they are choosing for their daughters in no way reflects the education that he is moving the rest of the country towards.

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