President Obama’s State of the Union message was a balancing act between a report on the nation and initiatives in different sectors using different techniques of presidential action and legislative requests. Education was one of the overarching topics and an area of specific interest.
The president’s message emphasized education in several generalities such as a reference to by topic (but not by name) of the new career- and college-ready standards and assessments saying, “Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with the skills for the new economy—problem-solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, math.” He has also said that the administration will move forward on connecting 20 million students to the “best technology to enrich K-12 education.” In an accompanying statement the head of the Federal Communications Commission said that they will be moving ahead with increasing bandwidth capacity. In addition, the president talked about, and his accompanying fact sheets outlined, that the administration will push to redesign high schools to emphasize “real-world skills.” This sounds like it will be a competitive awards program. It will also be part of an overarching theme linking high schools and community colleges to job skills in the rapidly expanding manufacturing sector. The relevance to IRA is that literacy skills are considered part of education to support getting kids ready for “real-world skills” for entering these new jobs.
One of the topics the president’s legislative initiatives are going to push is in the area of early childhood education. The president said, “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child's life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.” There is a major initiative (Strong Start for America’s Children) being pushed by Senator Harkin (D-IA), Congressman George Miller (D-CA), and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY), which is expected to be the subject of a Senate hearing and a topical hearing in the House. The House believes that there are many existing programs and will be looking at the range of existing programs. But the sector got $1 billion new dollars in the recent appropriations agreement that Congress enacted.
As with past State of the Union messages, the president has put forward his agenda, which clearly includes literacy as a key component.
For more information, see the "Schools & Education Opportunity" section on page 8 of the White House's State of the Union fact sheet.
Richard Long is the director of government relations at the International Reading Association.