State of the Education Union

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This year is shaping up to be a building year, one of those times of quiet determination rather than big campaign promises.

President Obama’s fifth State of the Union address was laced with ideas about education but no new initiatives. Instead, the President underscored his support for early childhood education, efforts to support young adult learning and job-training programs, and support for bolstering schools’ Internet infrastructure. 

Even so, the President might have scooped an announcement planned by the Education Superhighway for later this week when he said, “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.”  

Linked to that support will likely be changes in in E-Rate, the Federal Communications Commission program that schools use to help pay for connectivity. The FCC has collected comments for idea on revamping these rules. “We are finalizing a path forward that will improve the program’s efficiency, functionality, and our oversight so that E-Rate can better meet the modern connectivity needs of schools and libraries while remaining on sound financial footing for many years to come,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wrote last week.   

Want to see how frequently "education" and "schools" have come up the State of the Union addresses since 1900? Check out this nifty graphic from the Washington Post

Although President Obama sidestepped a direct discussion of Common Core, he applauded the Race to the Top program: “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,” he said. “Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculum 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.”  

President Obama also emphasized the importance of redesigning high schools so that they can “offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.” Figuring out how to give parents and students better information so that they can find the right college--and the right financial support--is key. So, too, is working with Congress to figure out how to help students of all race and genders afford college. “I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.”

Such efforts are ones that the President can nudge forward, with or without cooperation from Congress. And nudge he will: “America does not stand still—and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do," the President declared.

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