February 13th, 2013
01:10 AM ET

5 education ideas from the State of the Union

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - To guess the education plans in Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night, look no further than the guests in first lady Michelle Obama's box.

Obama's action points often reflected their stories: an undocumented college student who took part in Obama's "deferred action" plan; a 16-year-old winner of the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair; a recent community college graduate who now works on wind turbines; a young machinist who laid the foundation for his manufacturing career at his Kentucky high school; a first-grade teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; an early childhood educator from Norman, Oklahoma, and a NASA Mars Curiosity rover team member who volunteers to mentor students in FIRST robotics.

Here are the education ideas that rippled through Obama's State of the Union speech - and afterward, in Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's response:

Yes, another rating system: the "College Scorecard"

There was talk of money-crunching "scorecard" last year, but Obama announced during his speech that it would be released Wednesday - it's up now at whitehouse.gov/scorecard. The "College Scorecard" will show which schools offer the best value, "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck," he said. That wasn't all: Obama also asked Congress to change the Higher Education Act to attach schools' federal aid to their "affordability and value."

Preschool for all kids

Obama said investing in high-quality early childhood education saves money later, boosts graduation rates and reduces teen pregnancy and violent crime. “I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America," he said.

He gave a shout-out to Georgia and Oklahoma, states he said make early childhood education a priority. Obama will be visiting a pre-Kindergarten school in Georgia this week, and Susan Bumgarner, an early childhood educator from Oklahoma City, watched the speech with Michelle Obama.

Higher rewards for high-tech education

Some states and schools have discussed charging students less to pursue majors in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and more for majors like English or anthropology. Obama wasn't so specific, but he said he wants to "resdesign America's high schools" to gear-up grads for a high-tech economy.

“We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs," Obama said.

Rewarding high schools for high-tech curriculum doesn't mean every student will head to college. Obama mentioned "those German kids" who come up through schools that make sure they've got the skills for a job by the time they graduate. He pointed to P-Tech in Brooklyn, where graduates leave with a high school diploma and associate's degree in a high-tech field.

Better school buildings

Obama proposed a “Fix-It-First” program to create jobs fixing bridges and other infrastructure, along with a “Partnership to Rebuild America” to attract private capital to help. On the list of what it could help with? “Modern schools worthy of our children.”

Rubio's response: More school choice, clearer financial aid

In the GOP response, Rubio, R-Florida, listed some education ideas of his own - in particular, offering incentives for schools to provide Advanced Placement courses and more vocational training and increasing school choice, especially for parents of kids with special needs.

Rubio said he'd only recently paid off his student debt of more than $100,000, and that students need more information about loans before they sign on. He pointed out that students are single parents, veterans and people who've lost jobs, not just teens. Financial aid shouldn't "discriminate against programs that non-traditional students rely on – like online courses, or degree programs that give you credit for work experience," he said.

What did you think of Obama and Rubio's remarks on education? Share your thoughts in the comments, or tweet us @CNNSchools.

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. curtissmith003

    Hello All:

    The problem with education in America (her I go) is that we as a country have not agreed to the outcomes of public secondary and higher education. Some people want career preparedness, others job training, still more college readiness, and others world citizens. Students are fought over by these competing ideologies while educators are left trying to appease everyone. The rules change constantly. Until we decide on the purpose, specifically, of education, these debates will continue as our students (and future) deteriorate.

    European education (I lived and taught in England and Germany and Costa Rica) is standardized in each country. England, for example, has definitive goals for their education. Students are either tracked into the work-force or the universities. In the United States, we have traditionally been against that approach, Yet, our approach does not seem to work either.


    February 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  2. Tammy Steele

    Since Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Care Act of 1971 (which passed the House & Senate), there have been three longitudinal studies (30-40 years) of highest quality which show that in Michigan, Chicago, and North Carolina children from homes in poverty do better as adults (fewer in jail, more graduate from High School, better jobs, better decisions in many areas of life). According to a University of Chicago economist this payment for preschool saves money later. From birth to age 8 children develop vocabulary, a sense of story, phonological awareness, decisionmaking skills and other skills necessary to succeed in reading, school and in life...or they don't. If their lives are language-poor in preschool, they never catch up. Two red states, Oklahoma and Georgia, looked at this research and put their money on the line. Their education system improved. Where are statesmen who will work together to make preschool happen in all the states? Pouring money into prisons seems like the backwards way when we know how to provide children the skills not to end up in prison.

    February 14, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  3. doyourjob

    I love the concept of piggybacking real world tech certifications and degrees on high school graduating seniors whenever possible. Being able to graduate from high school with a tech related associate's degree or industry recognized certifications would be an enormous boost to kids who are committed to that field of study.

    February 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  4. Name*tom gordon

    Concerning the Georgia preschool program. – A point that is rarely emphasized – when Georga legislators considered the specifics of their state lottery , they insisted that the $ would ONLY go to education BUT A L S O that the %( !) of the regular state budget for education , would stay constant ! As a result , Georgia went from an educational backwater to an educational leader !
    Origionally only public K thru 12 was to be funded but with so many extra $ ,they were able to "leak" some $ to preschool & junior college programs (some private & parochial programs too).
    All this took biparticin (?) leadership backbone , which is obviously missing at too many levels of government today !

    February 14, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  5. Ed

    I looked up a couple of local colleges on the White House Scorecard site and the information is useless. All it gives is annual cost, graduation rate, loan default rate and monthly borrowing. The benefits block is to be determined by the DOEd. It doesn't describe the schools. So the local technology school would be rated lower than the state liberal arts school because it cost more to go there.

    February 13, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  6. scholarmulhern

    I think all of these suggestions have merit and should be examined. Our schools are in need of radical change. We need a complete re-visioning of how we think about education, from the buildings/structure and layout of the actual classroom environment to the curriculum itself. Our current educational system is anachronistic.

    James Mulhern, http://www.synthesizingeducation.net

    February 13, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  7. scholarmulhern

    I think all of these suggestions have merit and should be examined. Our schools are in need of radical change. We need a complete re-visioning of how we think about education, from the buildings/structure of the classrooms to the curriculum itself. Our current educational system is anachronistic.

    James Mulhern, http://www.synthesizingeducation.net

    February 13, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  8. Michael Duffy

    It was encouraging to hear President Obama endorse the idea of universal Pre-K. There's a lot of research showing that early childhood education does make a long-term difference. And the Montessori education community has been practicing this approach for more than 100 years.

    February 13, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  9. DrMAB

    Sorry, Folks. Our education problem is a PARENTING problem. Somewhere parents abandoned the idea that they were their kids primary teacher and responsible for producing a well-mannered, respectful member of society. Kids perform below standard because there is no initiative, discipline or reinforcement from home. Parents do not set expectations for achievment or behavior therefore kids come to school for everything but an education. This creates a difficult teaching environment that drives away qualified teachers and discourages prospective teachers from even considering the field. Unfortunately, I believe we are now shifting from parental abdication to just plain ignorance, as a generation of kids are being born to teenage parents who have little experience or social savvy to pass on. No amount of money can make a child value education or respect their teacher. That has to be taught at home.

    February 13, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • L

      Agree with you 100% on parenting, and there is no doubt that is the key to why students aren't performing up to the expectations placed on them, but there's no doubt that America's K-12 education system is also sub-par. At my high school, 4 years of "English" were required, which was actually all looking at literary themes and very little emphasis placed on grammar or reading skills, 4 years of phys. ed (didn't help with the fat kids at all), 4 years of civics (geography, U.S. history, World History, Government/Issues) not bad actually, probably the best designed curriculum by department, but in practice, very little was learned that wasn't already known, 2.5 years of Math, 2 years of science and biology and physics were required......that about sums up the big problem right there.......to think that it's actually possible to graduate high school in 2013 in the United States with no requirement to learn chemistry as well is sad.....then there was 2 years required of some kind of foreign language OR art OR music, the rest was filled with joke classes like creative writing, cooking, and shop. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast in high school, I'm glad I learned how to cook and use a reciprocating saw but I'm sure glad I took 6 years worth of science and 5.5 worth of math so that I'm doing fine now, meanwhile half of the kids who graduated in the top 10% of my high school class by taking the cupcake classes are still having trouble finding work.

      February 13, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
      • Roman

        I want to start by disagreeing, but I'll eventually get more friendly.

        First of all, that just sounds like a poorly designed curriculum. There's a good reason colleges expect 4 years of English (even MIT, which is about as STEM-centric as colleges get) - it teaches a wide, wide range of topics that span all different academic fields, if taught correctly. But if you get a teacher who just teaches love of literature, yes, it goes poorly.

        Now, I agree with the PE requirement being foolish and useless (what do you even learn in PE?), but I disagree with making chemistry a requirement. Why chemistry? I do think that at least 3, if not 4, years of science should be required, but I'm fine with having choice come into play there. I took O-Chem as an elective and set the curve despite being an English Ed major, so it's not that I'm bad at chemistry, I just don't like or use it much. The information is helpful when I get to musing about things occasionally, but I see no life-altering foundation it provides. Math is another subject that should have 4 years, as well as the expectation of graduating bilingually. I did not take a foreign language in HS, as I was a slacker, but I have since learned Latin and Italian and will soon begin working on French.

        So yes, you're both right. Parents are a huge issue, but so is the way the school system is set up. The problem is that nobody really knows how to make a perfect education system. Honestly, I believe the problem has to do with the aforementioned "love of literature." I love literature, but my class is not a Lit knowledge class, it is a skills class. All classes should focus on developing skills, not knowledge, except that knowledge that is required for developing the skill (some things literally just have to be memorized).

        February 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • doyourjob

      I agree with what you're saying....I've written many many times that as parents it is our job to "project manage" our child's education from start to finish. The structure of modern education is flawed. One teacher cannot reasonably manage 30 to 150 different students. HOWEVER.....we still have a significant % of teachers who simply do not do their jobs. I live in an upper income community with coveted schools and I still see it every day. I do my job at home....I make sure that my children do their job by arriving to school each day prepared, rested, and armed with motivation and respect. It is then the job of the teacher to take it the rest of the way home. And very often that doesn't happen. It is these lazy teachers who bring a bad name to a noble, challenging, and important profession.

      February 14, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  10. Art

    Great conversation....do we really need to spend more? Vouchers have a history of improving the performance in the areas that have tried them....why not. It will ultimatlly cost less. Talk about needing more preschool...how bout more parents educating their children prior to K or first grade? Maybe a little focus on the family would have a big and less expensive impact.

    February 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Obam

      Why do hostile globalist elite support Israel as a Jewish ethnostate with Jewish only immigration, but vigorously undermine white majority Europe and America with mass 3rd world immigration?

      One question for gullible whites:

      Why do you support hostile Jews like puppies, even when it costs trillions in debt, Jewish stranglehold on our banks, media, espionage, and maims millions of white soldiers' in useless wars?

      Whereas East Asia is 99% yellow, Africa is 99% Black, white people are being annihilated.

      February 13, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • Alice in PA

      Vouchers have zero history of improving anything except the pockets of private schools and CEOs. Look at Milwaukee which has had vouchers for decades. THe voucher schools in Louisiana are a joke. There is no difference in student outcomes except that private schools take the kids who are easy to educate. Look at the international PISA study which found that private schools do not educate kids better than public. Most recent voucher proposals do not even allow for a comparison. Here is PA, proponents of vouchers will not require the private schools to take the same NCLB exam, so there will be no accountability.

      February 13, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  11. Kara

    Investment in education is the place to start. Understandably it costs money to improve our schools, the curriculum and pay for our teachers. The cost to not do these things is much greater. The less educated the population the higher the crime rate, therefore we spend more in the law enforcement, court and prison systems. The less educated the population the more people will depend on the government for basic necessities such as housing and food or we have more people begging in the streets. An investment in education would, in the long run, less expensive than any other proposal I have heard.

    February 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  12. Abigail Seldin

    Though a 2012 report by the Center for American Progress revealed the shortcomings of the College Scorecard’s first public draft, we are always excited to see government action in support of higher education pricing transparency. Still, the Scorecard may already be two steps behind existing products and student needs...blog.collegeabacus.com

    February 13, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  13. thesaj

    Okay, so my old city New Haven, Conn. rebuilt most of its schools. It spent fortunes on these architecturally designed structures. Many of which are sub-par as school buildings. But great show pieces.

    All of this is balogne talk. Sure, we can talk about preschool for all, new schools, new bridges, but let's face it. This costs money. And where is that money going to come from. We are already $16 trillion in debt. We'll be $20 trillion by the time the next president takes office.

    This isn't simply about raising taxes. As the deficits we are spending are insane... we're approaching the point where you could tax everyone 100% and not pay off the debt.

    Bipartisanship? I see Republicans cross the aisle ALL the time. Democrats rarely do so. And Mr. President is one of the absolutely worst in history for bipartisan behavior.

    But he is a good public speaker...

    February 13, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • dbgo

      Bull. You are starting from a predetermined anti-obama conclusion and molding your logic to fit your truth. You have both feet firmly planted in mid-air.

      February 13, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  14. james pfeiffer

    President Obama was remarkably clear and eloquent last night. What disturbs me is that we, as a nation, lack the art of objective contemplation before we respond to anything. Rather, within a few minutes after his complex and extended speech, we have some opposition politician dismembering, rebutting and basically playing the contrarian. It's like everything else we do...try to shovel in another mouthful before letting the first one even pass the throat. We don't think before we react, thus we have a nation on the strings of talking-heads and puppeteers.

    February 13, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • dbgo

      Very true, a stark conclusion from a two-party system based on fear-mongering and non-compromise. It would be refreshing to see a third party with viable candidates who are no looneys, change the political perspective up a bit.

      February 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  15. Patricia

    Elevate teacher's pay and status to attract the caliber of people who take high paying jobs in other elevated careers.

    February 13, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  16. Mary Leonhardt

    I like President Obama's ideas; I just wish he had talked more about reading. As a high school teacher for 35 years, I see the education crisis as a reading crisis. It was only the avid readers who had sophisticated reading skills, who could write fluently and persuasively, who could concentrate and follow oral arguments, and who could do well across the board, in all of their subjects. Yet, according to SAT scores, the number of advanced readers has declined over the last forty years.

    One of my books adresses this issue, and is free today and tomorrow on Amazon. There is a link to it on my website.


    February 13, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • katestrom

      Thanks for you post, Mary. I am sharing your book with my colleagues this morning since we are all in agreement that administrations are knowingly and willingly graduating students who are well below grade level in reading. This is a complicated and persistent issue and no one seems to be consulting actual 'boots on the ground' teachers about what needs to be done.

      February 13, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  17. empresstrudy

    Or we could just give up. America is 25th in education the developed world. And characteristically Obama's solution is a weird kind of "Victory or Death" approach where we're supposed to aim for #1. Here's a better idea aim for 24th place and see if you get there and if you do aim for 23rd place and so one. Because #1 or nowhere hasn't worked.

    February 13, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Alice in PA

      Interesting stat. What was it based on? We just came in 5th in the latest TiMSS and PIRLS studies for math/science and reading respectively. In many areas we tied or even beat Finland. But that was not talked about on any news outlet. The "failing school" mantra is false rhetoric designed to privatize schools which would be fine if private schools provided a better education, but they don't. They just have easier kids to educate. In an analysis of the PISA data, our kids above the poverty line were compared to those in other countries and we came out as one of the top 3 countries.

      February 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • mattski

      What does that mean, "25th in education"? Is that graduation rate? number of schools? I'll consider any argument, whether I agree with it or not, as long as it makes some sense.

      February 14, 2013 at 8:05 am |