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2015 State of the Union: A Quick Recap for Teachers

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Another year, another nationally televised speech from President Barack Obama. Last year, the State of the Union largely avoided major new education initiatives, perhaps learning from the failures of previous years. But with a new Congress before him, what did the president prioritize?

Let's break down the speech.

How long was the address?

A precise 60 minutes.

Give me the condensed version.

The State of the Union is strong, except for all the problems.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced that he wants to keep annual testing in the next iteration of the No Child Left Behind Act. Did the president echo those sentiments?

LOL, no.

So what did he say about education specifically?

  • "Today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record. Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high. And more Americans finish college than ever before."
  • "It's time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us."
  • "Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible. I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today."
  • "I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world."

And?

That's mostly it.

That's not a lot.

The Politics K-12 blog has an in-depth breakdown of the policy-related stuff that Obama did cover, but he didn't devote the same attention to K-12 education policy as in past years. It's probably influenced in part by the nature of the speech (everyone wants a piece), and also by how the president's educational priorities don't get much traction; Republicans in Congress have already pretty much nixed his education agenda where legislation is concerned.

But in subtler ways, the speech touched on the kinds of things that would be considered non-academic factors relevant to student success. To the degree that children benefit academically from healthy communities and strong families; from not being the target of institutionalized discrimination or informal prejudice; from not living in poverty; from equal treatment, the kind not predicated on sex or gender; from growing up in a world that hasn't been devastated by climate change and global warming—to that degree, a great deal of the president's speech was about education.

To wit:

I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids.

I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen —man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, immigrant and Native American, gay and straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability.

Any other highlights?

The president had flashes of impromptu humor, including this chastening of Republicans: 

Can I have a transcript?

Here you go.

Were any educators among the official White House guests?

Yes! The Obamas invited Katrice Mubiru, a career-technical education teacher in Los Angeles. She encouraged Obama to step up support for career and technical education, and had previously introduced the president during his visit to Los Angeles Trade-Technical College in July.

The first lady was also joined by Anthony Mendez, a freshman at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, who was the first member of his family to graduate high school. According to a White House release:

Anthony grew up in the South Bronx with his mother and three siblings. In 9th grade, his best friend was shot in his neighborhood. One year later, Anthony's family was evicted, and they moved into a homeless shelter. ... After moving into the homeless shelter, he would get up at 4:30 a.m. for six months to get to school on time.

They didn't get shout-outs, but it's an honor just to be allowed in the Capitol. (Seriously, try getting in there sometime.)

If I had to choose between watching the speech and watching something else ...

Hayley Atwell plays a post-World War II secret agent on ABC's "Agent Carter" and it is everything you could want from TV.

What if I don't have time for that?

Here you go:

Top image: A guy who's won two presidential elections. —Mandel Ngan/AP


 Follow Ross Brenneman on Twitter for more news and analysis of the teaching profession.
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