Education and the State of Our Union

Marion Herbert's picture
Friday, January 27, 2012

Obama is right to say that the minimum requirements set by No Child Left Behind, in the ten years the law has been in effect, have done little to shrink the achievement gap, and to consider an alternative. But it’s too early to know if Race to the Top is the right one.

In today’s political climate one wouldn’t have to be reminded of which party the President belongs to. In his State of the Union address, President Obama told us anyway:

I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and states.

Obama often couches discussions of education in other terms—economic, environmental, of immigration—rather than as a political tool. This makes sense, of course, given the broad effect education has in a modern society. More to the point, many believe—and Obama seems to agree—that at the heart of solving long-term economic, environmental, and immigration concerns lies the need to fix education. “To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier,” the President said in his address.

On primary and secondary education, Obama essentially advocated three directives: raise the dropout age to eighteen, continue his Race to the Top program, and loosen the standardized restrictions on teachers. Obama is right to say that the minimum requirements set by No Child Left Behind, in the ten years the law has been in effect, have done little to shrink the achievement gap, and to consider an alternative. But it’s too early to know if Race to the Top is the right one. The first, sufficiently rigorous evaluation will begin in March, and will only be completed and released two years later. He’s also right to say that “teachers matter,” and that good ones ought to have the freedom and income to do their job well.

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