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