HP: State Of The Union: Obama Touts College Affordability, Tough Love For Teachers

25 01 2012

By Joy Resmovits, Huffington Post

First Posted: 01/25/2012 11:37 am Updated: 01/25/2012 1:08 pm

Though education played a sizable role in President Barack Obama’s third State of the Union address Tuesday evening — even proving to be the speech’smost-trafficked topic on Twitter — teachers, union officials and experts are still making sense of what, exactly, the rhetoric means for America’s classrooms.

“You can’t say ‘stop teaching to the test’ while continuing to advocate high-stakes testing as the measure of [teacher] effectiveness,” said Mike Hladio, a Pennsylvania teacher, referring to a line that garnered the president much applause.

Obama’s speech included a subtle rehashing of old policies; a measured tone that sympathized with teachers; and a few new proposals in both K through 12 and higher education that are still lean on specifics. New initiatives would add a focus on keeping kids in high school until they’re 18, create a competition that incentivizes teacher effectiveness, partner businesses with community colleges, extend tuition tax credits, prevent a student-loan interest bump and make college more affordable — though it is unclear which levers the federal government has on this last point.

Obama sought to place education within his broader framework of the revival of America’s middle class, stressing the issue of college affordability, an issue he’s had his senior staff stump on in recent months. “To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier,” Obama said Tuesday night.

In the speech, Obama cleverly played to the desires of his various education-related constituents. On the one hand, he appealed to the Democratic education-reform lobby, a group comprised of organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform that have come to be known for its desire to use data to fuel teacher personnel decisions. He did so by discussing the need to revamp teacher personnel practices to focus on merit instead of seniority. In that vein, he cited a much-quoted new study by Harvard and Columbia economists that shows that an effective teacher can increase lifetime earnings for a classroom by $250,000, though this boils down to much less on an annual, per-student level.

“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,” Obama said.

(Full Story)





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