Translating the State of the Union Address

By 01/25/2011

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Due to political exigencies, the true meaning of State of the Union speeches can be detected only by careful textual analysis. The following is an interpretative translation of what the President really had to say about American education.

Obama: “The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.”

Translation:  The achievement gap between the United States and other countries, especially in math and science, is every bit as serious a problem as has recently been shown.  By focusing federal programs on the disadvantaged, we have failed to challenge our best students.  We need to realize that the international achievement gap will only grow if we don’t fix all of our schools.

Obama:  “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.”

Translation:  We have no need to waste more federal dollars on stimulus packages or state hand-outs.  All grants must be conditioned upon improved performance at the local level.

Obama: “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.”

Translation: We need to pay teachers for performance and fire the ones that repeatedly fail to do their job.

As long as my translation is accurate, we need to stand up and cheer. Of course, only time can tell whether I got it right—or whether realpolitik will give the president’s words quite a different meaning.

-Paul E. Peterson

Comment on this article
  • David B. Cohen says:

    Improved performance at the local level… based on test scores alone? If so, no thank you. We’ve seen what that kind of measurement means for overall educational quality.

    Pay teachers for performance? Define performance. If you mean test scores alone, there’s not a study or a system that has shown the effectiveness of that approach, and it reflects a profound misunderstanding of what motivates teachers and actually improves their performance.

  • Nick Siewert says:

    Shame that he is so full of same old glittering generalities that he requires a translator. Except for the delivery it is basically Bush (or Chris Christie). As for Race to the Top, it is not an innovation fund as much as it is an education privatization fund. Nothing new from the President regrettably either this speech or thus far except bad money following bad money. Looks like progressives will have to wait for the second term to get the agenda they thought they had elected him for.

  • Brandon says:

    It is easy to take a look at another country and realize that we are falling behind, but the blame can’t fall completely on the teachers or the standards they have to teach. Many students simply are not motivated to work for the grade needed to raise our country’s academic performance. The real change to our nation’s education will come by getting the students to make real efforts to graduate with a decent GPA.

  • Rick Martinez says:

    Respectfully, we truly don’t need more translation, or more
    pay for our teachers, or more shame or blame. It’s time we “care” for our teachers. They’re not dead-beats; they’re dead tired! Frustrated. Depressed even. And, like our physicians who needed and got “well baby clinics,” our teachers need wellness “fulfillment” programs.

    No, not more of the same “continuing education” stuff on how and why to teach more and better. Rather, agenda that focus on their personal and professional “fulfillment.”
    How they’re feeling? What makes them tick? What’s the “happiness” motivation that inspires them to relate at their best and to endure? What can a principal and school do to enhance and enrich their teaching experience? What’s their vision of optimal function? What’s happening in their lives that’s keeping them from teaching at their best?

    Like the two old learning refrains, “The purpose of an education is to replace an empty mind with an open one,”
    and “Students are not things to be molded, but persons to be unfolded!”–it’s time we cared enough to “unfold” our
    teacher’s “fulfillment.”

    We can do this by creating, building and “teaching” the sincere importance of relationships. Afterall, relationship is more powerful than method. Relationship is more powerful than delivery. Relationship is more powerful than quality. Relationship is more powerful than lesson.

    And just in case some of us don’t already know, a natural byproduct is, the more students know, the more they relate; the more students trust, the more they relate;
    the more students relate, the more they learn!

    Thank you…Rick Martinez

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