Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Education Takes Center Stage

If you want to make a difference
in the life of our nation;

if you want to make a difference
in the life of a child
– become a teacher.

Your country needs you.

--President Barack Obama

This from Politics K-12:

President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to put education front-and-center on the national agenda, and on the agenda of the newly divided Congress. And he tied his education proposals, including the long-stalled reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, directly to the nation's economic future.

"This is our generation's Sputnik moment," he said, alluding to the nation's 1960s-era investment in research and education spurred by concerns after the launch of the Soviet space satellite.

While calling for a five-year federal spending freeze, the president—without giving budget specifics—also proposed spending more on education as part of a campaign to "win the future."

"Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine," Obama said. "It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."

Excepts from the President's State of the Union:

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, ―The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.‖ Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

Now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there...

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it. Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.

The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us – as citizens, and as parents – are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all fifty states, we said, ―If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than one percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. These standards were developed, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.

You see, we know what’s possible for our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities.

Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado; located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97% of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their family to go to college. And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said ―Thank you, Mrs. Waters, for showing… that we are smart and we can make it.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as ―nation builders. Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you.

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within reach of every American. That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit – worth $10,000 for four years of college.

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we are also revitalizing America’s community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams too. As Kathy said, ―I hope it tells them to never give up.

If we take these steps – if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they’re born until the last job they take – we will reach the goal I set two years ago: by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense...

This from Slate:

Obama's Sputnik Moment

The lesson from the 1950s is that
it takes more than private enterprise
to revive American innovation.

It takes lots of government spending. President Barack Obama didn't say much about foreign or military policy in Tuesday night's State of the Union address. To the extent he did talk about it, he spent more time on economic agreements with India, South Korea, and China than on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—and, given the state of the economy and the nature of the political battles ahead, the balance was probably right.

But he did evoke a huge defense issue from a half-century ago—the signal wake-up security call that marked the years of transition from Dwight Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy, the single word that has symbolized ever since the fear of slipping behind in a dangerous world: Sputnik.

"This is our generation's Sputnik moment," Obama said. As a result, we need to fund "a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the space race," with particularly strong investments in biomedicine, information technology, and clean-energy technology. In the same section of the speech, he likened this funding effort to "the Apollo Project," which later put a man on the moon.

Yet later on in the speech, Obama proposed, starting this year, to "freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years," a step that, he boasted, would "bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president."

It's hard to see how he or the Congress can resolve this contradiction—Kennedy-esque vigor and investment on the one hand, Ike-like torpor and penny-pinching on the other. He said much of this extra money could be freed up by eliminating subsidies for the oil companies. First, good luck on that. And second, that alone won't free up enough.

The history of Sputnik, and the revival of the American economy that it spurred, is instructive. Sputnik was the 184-pound satellite that the Soviet Union launched into outer space on Oct. 4, 1957. It was a first (the United States had tried once before, with the Explorer, but failed), and it shocked the world. Everyone had assumed the Soviets were technologically primitive; now it looked like they were ahead.

The achievement wasn't merely symbolic; it also meant that, if the Soviets could build a rocket to boost a satellite into orbit, they might also build a rocket to boost an intercontinental missile that carries a hydrogen bomb and comes back down on the other side of the Earth, blowing an American city to smithereens.

Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, declared on national television that, with Sputnik, America had "lost a battle more important and greater than Pearl Harbor." In the U.S. Congress, Clare Boothe Luce, R-Conn., called Sputnik's beep "an intercontinental outer-space raspberry to a decade of American pretensions that the American way of life was a gilt-edged guarantee of our national superiority." ...

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