Wednesday, February 13, 2013

State of the (Educational) Union

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama hardly mentioned K-12 education.  I didn't mind, partly because I think the President's inclination to support increased standardized testing and teacher evaluations based on test scores are misguided, but also because other issues he discussed would have far more effect on educational outcomes than any school reform.  In his speech, the President discussed health care reform and his proposed increase in the minimum wage, two initiatives that could make a significant difference in how well US children can read, write and think.

The President argued for Obamacare and for a higher minimum wage in both humanitarian and economic terms.  This is appropriate, since the US spends nearly twice as much on health care as every other industrialized nation and even raising the mimimum wage to $9, as the President proposed, would only bring it back to where it was over thirty years ago, and would boost the economy, which is hampered primarily by lack of demand, through increasing the income of those who spend everything they make.  At the same time, however, I wish he had mentioned their educational benefits, since a good case can be made that these initatives are more important for education than any testing regime, curriculum reform, or teacher evaluation system.

While schools and teachers are essential, most of the variance in student achievement is determined by factors outside the school building (that's why education reformers always say that teachers are "the most important in-school factor"), and health and poverty matter more than any others.  If Obama can succeed in providing health care for all and a higher, inflation-indexed minimum wage, not only will he have made our country fairer and stronger, he will be, for once, a true "Education President."

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