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State of the Union 2011: The Education Arms Race

Obama called for a "Sputnik" moment in education reform—except instead of competing against Russia to get to space, we're competing against Asia.


Education reform was the star of President Obama's 2011 State of the Union address. He called for a "Sputnik" moment in education reform and innovation—except instead of competing against Russia to get to space, we're competing technologically and economically against Asia, particularly China and India. Essentially, the education "arms race" is on.

Obama called for Americans to step up to the education plate, saying that


"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."

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Although we should unequivocally expect educational excellence for American children, the question lingers, why can't all nations be highly educated? We should know from our experience with modern terrorism that a more educated population worldwide is in our interest.

Teacher quality also took center stage in the address and the President again referred to Asia, noting the respect South Koreans give teachers. Obama said American teachers deserve the same, "We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones."

The Washington Post points out that the methods of South Korea's teachers aren't exactly producing the creativity and innovation we need if we're going to get to number one. They cite an Asian Times Online.

What the stats don’t tell is how drearily authoritarian classes often are. Flair and creativity are rarely rewarded. Instead, teachers drum into students a ton of stuff they must learn by rote so as to jump through hoops leading up to the all-important university entrance examination.

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The President also noted that the Baby Boom generation is on the cusp of retirement, so we're going to need a whole slew of new teachers:

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.

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Given that teachers are demonized in the media, and the salary isn't exactly the best, Obama might need to further incentivize recent grads to join the profession—how about student loan reduction?

One clue to the direction education reform needs to go came when the President highlighted an innovative public school in Denver that's completely teacher run. The Bruce Randolph School made a remarkable turnaround in student achievement, and could provide a model for how to empower teachers and set them up to successfully do their job.

If you have questions about the education themes in the President's speech, GOOD is sitting down tomorrow for a livestreamed State of the Union Education Roundtable with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. We're taking your questions through 6 p.m. PST today. Details on how to submit are here.

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