State of the Union

Watching the President’s State of the Union speech, I was struck, like many others, by the unprecedented sight of Democrats and Republicans sitting together in recognition of the tragic events in Tucson a few weeks ago. “What comes of this moment,” President Obama said, “is not whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.”

I had been deeply concerned over the last several weeks, listening to political power brokers saying that we have entered a new era – a time when across-the-board cuts in federal spending will change life as we know it in America. What would happen if both parties decided to work together and then proceeded to make further cuts to education funding? With state budgets in crisis across the country, discussion about cuts in grants for teachers, Pell Grants, Title 1 spending and other federal support has filled the air for several weeks.

As President Obama began to explain his position on education funding, he stressed the importance of investing in education to create a workforce that can build the innovative products necessary to compete in a global economy. “We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build other nations,” he said. Yet, it quickly became clear that the administration was still relying on approaches to education that will do anything BUT foster innovation. Missing from the President’s words was any attempt to explain why students are disengaged, why they are failing, and why they are dropping out.

The United States is the richest, most powerful nation on earth, yet it ranks 37th in education spending as a percentage of GDP . The President relayed his concern that America continues to fall behind other nations in math and science and that the nation has slipped to 9th in the world in the proportion of young people with a college degree. Rather than guarantee that adequate funding for all schools will become a national priority, the President touted the administration’s Race to the Top initiative, which offers “challenge grants” to states deemed successful in creating the conditions for superior educational performance.  Once again, the language was about competing rather than collaborating; it was about “winning the future” rather than finding innovative ways to educate children today.

We continue to believe that in order for America to maintain its position in a global economy it must be willing to abandon the educational paradigm it operates under and begin to employ the tools and techniques appropriate to a 21st century networked world. To build a culture of innovators, we must start with transforming the education system itself. And to do that takes political will—the will to re-examine how today’s children acquire the higher level thinking and analytical skills needed in a true global society where individuals and countries authentically cooperate with others in becoming the future stewards of our world.

We continue to believe that the key to transforming our educational system is not to standardize education but to individualize it – to build achievement not only on discovering the individual talents and passions of each student but also putting students in an environment where they will share those talents and passions with others for the greater good.

We continue to believe that the administration’s commitment to bettering the way we educate our citizens needs to be guaranteed.  Perhaps the President said it best when he outlined a world where… “our students don’t just memorize questions, but answer questions like: what do you think of that idea, what would you change in the world, what do you want to be when you grow up?”