President Barack Obama stuck with his established education priorities in his fifth State of the Union address: expanding early education, providing students with real-world skills needed in the job market, and promoting greater access to higher education.
In an indication of the importance his administration has placed on education, he opened his speech with a tribute to teachers “who spent extra time with a student who needed it” and contributed to lifting the nation’s graduation rate “to its highest levels in more than three decades.”
However, he arrived at the bulk of his education policy message 43 minutes into the address. He asked Congress to move forward on legislation to help states expand public preschool – an idea he first proposed in his 2013 State of the Union address – and said he would create a coalition of leaders to “help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.” He offered no further specifics about the coalition or how it might reach that goal.
He extolled his administration’s work on student loan reform, saying, “Today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.”
He also referred indirectly to the work teachers and principals are doing to introduce the new Common Core State Standards and higher-quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula. He also referred to the current push to go beyond rote learning and to focus more intensively on problem solving and critical thinking skills. “Some of this change is hard,” Obama said. “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.”
Here are President Obama’s full remarks on education:
Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.
Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age 9. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications. And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.
Five years ago we set out to change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. 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 the skills for the new economy — problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, math.
Now, 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 is worth it — and it is working.
The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time, and that has to change. 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 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.
But in the meantime, 30 states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can’t wait. 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 that they need. It is right for America. We need to get this done.