Obama Promotes Education to Meet “Our Generation’s Sputnik Moment”
By Kevin Hart
Saying that a changing economy and increased global competition had created a “Sputnik moment” for America, President Barack Obama encouraged increased investment in public education with a focus on career and college readiness in his State of the Union address this evening.
While acknowledging a need for fiscal discipline and strategies aimed at deficit reduction, Obama said that growing the economy and preparing workers for the jobs of tomorrow means that the country must continue to invest in education.
“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine,” Obama said. “It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.”
One of the greatest challenges facing education is the pending retirement of Baby Boomer teachers over the next decade, and Obama set a goal of preparing 100,000 new science, technology, engineering and math teachers.
“In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher,” Obama said to a standing ovation. “Your country needs you.”
Obama stressed a number of key education initiatives that he said will be a focus of his administration, including:
- Replacing the No Child Left Behind Act with “a law that is more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.”
- Making permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth $10,000 for four years of college.
- Strengthening America’s public higher education system, with the goal of ensuring that America has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the end of the decade. Obama stressed the important role community colleges play in training workers for new careers.
- Reforming immigration laws to ensure talented and responsible students can work in the United States after graduation.
National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement that he was grateful Obama took an opportunity to highlight the importance of public education, and that NEA members would continue to do their part to ensure all students have access to a quality public education.
“Our members—millions of talented teachers, education support professionals, and higher education faculty—are ready to contribute to this discussion, to roll up their sleeves and keep working hard to improve our public schools one student at a time, one school at a time, one community at a time,” Van Roekel said. “President Obama is tackling the pressing issues of our times head on. His priorities—putting more Americans back to work and getting our fiscal and economic house in order—are indeed essential to the long-term economic well-being of our nation.”
Van Roekel also welcomed Obama’s call to fix No Child Left Behind, but said that he remains concerned about competitive grant programs like Race to the Top that can create winners and losers among students.
“We need to give more students access to an education that will prepare them for the challenges of the 21st century and open new opportunities for children, especially minority children and those in low-income families,” Van Roekel said. “NEA is committed to the success of all students and ensuring that education remains the engine that moves America forward. We look forward to working with this Congress and the administration to continue the important work of transforming the nation’s public schools.”