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President challenges states to cut college costs, support teachers, prevent dropouts and beef up job training

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, January 27th, 2012 at 12:19 pm in Education, United States.

The U. S. Department of Education has released portions of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, which I have excerpted below. The complete address is at www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2012.

College Affordability: “When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the college tuition tax credit we started that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars. And, give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years …. Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part — by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And, colleges and universities have to do their part, by working to keep costs down. Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Some schools redesign courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology. The point is, it’s possible. So, let me put colleges and universities on notice: if you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury — it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Teachers: “At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to layoff 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 a child who dreams beyond his circumstances. 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 in their own pocket for school supplies, just to make a difference. 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.”

Dropouts: “We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So, tonight, I am proposing that every state requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

Job Training: “I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity …. Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My administration has lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now, you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers — places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now. And, I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that, from now on, people have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help that they need …”

Do you think California should implement Obama’s ideas?

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  • Anon

    Is he really going to have the courage to face the teachers unions in an election year or any year for that matter? The only way to change the status quo, reward the best, and replace those who are just not helping kids learn is to go head to head with the unions. There are many great teachers out there who would be much better off if they were not a part of an organization that protects the weakest and in doing so promotes mediocrity.

  • Theresa Harrington

    It may be that he is asking the states to take on the unions. The NCLB waivers and SIG grant requirements expect unions to agree to incorporating student performance in teacher evaluations.

  • Anon

    Yes, but even those of us who believe unions stand in the way of “excellence” in education do not necessarily believe that teacher evaluations should be based on student performance. In fact, I would agrue that teacher evaluations based on student performance would inhibit incorporating innovation into the classroom. I also believe it would reduce job satisfaction and worst of all it would leave the teaching of the most vulnerable students as an undesirable assignment. It couldn’t be more wrong.

    I believe teachers should be evaluated just the same as the rest of us, by their boss. If our Principals are not prepared to do that then we better start training them. As for the agrument about favoritism and unjust reviews – all I can say is welcome to the real world, I guess you are going to have to figure out how to get along like everyone else. Job security is going to have to be based on how well you do your job not how long you have been there.

    In order to “change the status quo, reward the best, and replace those who are just not helping kids learn” school administrators are going to have to have the ability to hire and fire teachers “at will” and they will need to be able to pay employees based on merit. No politician has yet shown that they have the courage to enact that kind of reform.

  • vindex

    Lots of rhetoric and no solutions.. What did I expect? I always have hope that Pres. Obama will transform into a great leader.. instead, we have what we saw at the SOTU.
    Very sad

  • Ross

    Thoughts on his 4 categories:
    #1: College affordability: yes, it’s out of hand – his solutions? Redesign courses, educate faster, use technology (i.e. Internet courses) – bleh! I like the tax credit. But, we have to subsidize tuition better in this state. If this state truly cared about its future, UC and CSU educations would be dirt cheap for a state resident.
    #2: Teachers: “Teachers matter”: I agree; who doesn’t? However, Obama has bought into the “deform” movement like everyone else (evidence: Arne Duncan, Race to the Top, continuing NCLB, merit pay, push for charters, etc). Without launching into a dissertation about where good teaching comes from and the resources and staying power necessary to get it, let me just briefly say that this assertion that only if we could just get rid of the bad teachers and hire the good teachers all would be well is naive, simplistic, and, well, dumb (particularly Obama’s quoting of that absurd study).
    #3: Dropouts – I’ve taught in a state that let kids dropout at 16. I now teach in CA – where students have to stay in school till 18. Anecdotal evidence tells me this distinction makes no difference. There are success cases between the ages of 16-18 for sure, but most of those are by kids who have made that decision on their own and I haven’t seen an increase in those kids just because the law says they have to. Dropout rates cannot be attributed to these laws; they start so much earlier.
    #4: Job training: just platitudes.

  • vindex

    Anon #1.. Good ideas but again how can you figure out who are the best. All of the proposals I’ve seen about tests determining teacher performance have fatal flaws. I’m supportive of you in theory, but in practice, not practical.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    This speech offered another example of why the federal government should not be involved in education in any significant way. They have nothing to add but another layer of bureacracy to the state, county, and district layers that are already available to micromanage our schools — the only places where teaching and learning actually can happen. None of the President’s ideas here are new, and he offers no ways to implement them. Since the Dept. of Education was established during the Carter administration, it has been difficult to point to any positive impacts that it has had on student achievement. The billions that DoE spends should be sent back to where they came from, or better yet, not taken to D.C. in the first place.

  • Anon #1

    Vindex,
    How do Owners/ Presidents/ CEOs/ Managers/ Directors/ etc… determine the best and brightest in the vast majority of companies/organizations in this country? The rate at which teachers are fired as a percent of the whole is far below the average when compared to any other industry segment.

    This may be considered naive and simplistic as indicated by Ross but I have to ask myself why are you all finding the concept so complicated. My 16 year old son can tell you which teacher are good and which are not. Parents know, Principals know, other teachers know, very simple – it is only complicated because we have been made to believe it is complicated.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Anon: Based on concerns raised at MDHS, it appears that some teachers fear unfair evaluations based on retaliation, rather than on best teaching practices. It would seem that a fair evaluation system should include checks and balances that could include multiple observations by more than one administrator and/or teacher coaches, as well as an appeal process for teachers who believe they are being targeted unfairly.

  • Anon

    Theresa,

    Couldn’t I argue from a philosophical perspective that perhaps teachers believe they will be unfairly evaluated because the thought of being accountable for a job performance is so far outside of the “culture” of teaching?

    There is no formal procedure at my job and I have a direct boss to whom I answer. I have to meet expectations that don’t always have tangible results to measure. Part of my job is to get along.

    I have found that most employers are fearful of unfairly being punitive toward an employee (even an employee they don’t personally like) because they are subject to a host of very employee favored employment laws. Why wouldn’t those same laws be good enough for the teaching profession?

    I don’t really think there needs to be a multi-layered complicated evaluation process, I think we need well-trained Principals who are held accountable by their boss, the Superintendent. The Superintendent needs to be competent and held accountable by his/her boss, the Board. And we need to continue to hold the Board accountable by being engaged and by showing our displeasure (or support) at the ballot box.