Politico.com asked a number of people to suggest what President Obama should say in his annual State of the Union Address and what he was likely to say instead. Yours truly weighed in below. You will see that I recommended that he toss out Race to the Top as a failed initiative and get a new Secretary of Education. But just take a look at the headline summary of my written remarks. Since most of those who were asked to comment represent the status quo, they concluded “Most suggestions line up pretty well with existing policy preferences.” My suggestions did not.
“By Libby A. Nelson
With help from Caitlin Emma, Maggie Severns, Nirvi Shah and Stephanie Simon
WHAT ADVOCATES WANT TO HEAR IN STATE OF THE UNION: The White House met with education groups a week ago in preparation for this year’s speech. Past State of the Union addresses have pushed pre-K, college completion and Race to the Top. What does 2014 hold? This wishlist from education policy analysts and advocates might have a familiar ring: Most suggestions line up pretty well with existing policy preferences.
On Common Core: The Fordham Institute’s Michael Brickman hopes Obama won’t breathe a word about the Common Core. [http://bit.ly/1hjPxXr] If anything, Obama should apologize for taking credit for the Common Core in 2012, said Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners. “He should acknowledge the federal government’s role in encouraging states to adopt the Common Core but clearly and unequivocally state that, while he personally supports the Common Core because it’s a high-quality and common set of standards, he never has and never will tell a state or local community which standards it should follow.” Anne Hyslop of the New American Foundation agreed: “The most effective champions for Common Core these days are not coming from Washington, D.C., and certainly not from the administration.”
-What else should he avoid? Maybe he should stay away from education altogether, said Michael Petrilli of Fordham. “The federal government hasn’t done such a stellar job, so let’s keep mum in the speech,” he said. Kris Perry of the First Five Years fund: “We hope the President doesn’t declare ‘mission accomplished’ on early childhood education, simply because of the good news coming from the appropriations bill, or that he’s scaling down his requests on early childhood. Now is the time to ramp up our efforts, not to pack it in.”
-So what should he say? Possible policy goals: Ending childhood hunger due to its inherent link to improving educational success (Billy Shore of Share Our Strength). He could talk about the great role community colleges play in the development of a healthy middle class (David Baime, American Association of Community Colleges). Richard Barth of the KIPP Foundation would love to see Obama reiterate his goal of increasing college graduation rates for low-income students. And he could back off of his administration’s push to rate teachers based at least in part on student test scores, said Mark Naison , a history professor at Fordham University and co-founder of the Badass Teachers Association. Or he could take a stronger position in favor of education reform and accountability for students, said Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s state education chief and the chairwoman of Chiefs for Change.
-Noelle Ellerson of AASA: The Superintendents Association, wants Obama to direct Congress to get back to working on reauthorizing ESEA. And the right new version of the law could encompass most of the president’s education initiatives, such as early education and education technology, minus the competition. “Rather than siphon off political chits and divide resources (political support and funding) by creating stand alone programs, focus on the federal flagship K-12 program, ESEA.”
-A new speechwriter? Education historian and activist Diane Ravitch dashed off her own version of an ideal Obama speech: “I am canceling all the unproductive mandates associated with Race to the Top, which have caused teaching to the test and wasted billions of dollars. I am delighted to announce that Arne Duncan, who served nobly in my first administration, has agreed to become the American ambassador to Micronesia.”
-The big picture: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has a 30,000-foot goal for the address: “Rather than the yearly overtesting of our students, I’d like to see us deeply examine and embrace what other countries that outperform us in education do: hands-on learning, professional development and wraparound services.”