President Obama chose a striking image to open the annual State of the Union speech framing his national policy priorities and legislative agenda: a teacher devoting extra time to support a student in need.
"Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans: Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America's graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades," Obama said.
And with that, Obama's 2014 speech was underway.
Education issues, and the crucial role that education plays in expanding access to opportunity for all Americans, played a strong supporting role in the President's message to the nation but never really made it to center stage. Obama wove education issues into a larger narrative of reducing wealth disparities and addressing issues of income inequality.
Reminiscent of his 2013 address, President Obama again called on Congress to authorize a plan that aims to expand access to prekindergarten programs for low- and moderate-income families through matching grants to states. (The massive bipartisan spending bill approved by Congress earlier this month denied funding to Obama's initiative, yet boosted funding to the Head Start program).
Instead, the President called on states to address the funding and support of pre-K themselves, connecting the ability of states to implement reforms and citing the Race to the Top competitive grant program as an example of the possibility of state-level reform.
Receiving less explicit attention from the President was a crucial component of expanding opportunity and delivering a high quality education for all children: effective teachers. The importance of developing effective teachers through excellent preparation and support cannot be understated in the President's ability to deliver on this vision.
While the President may have left an important piece out of his speech, he is right that states do have the ability to implement reforms that can improve the educational outcomes of America's children.
Tomorrow, NCTQ will release the seventh annual State Teacher Policy Yearbook which provides a comprehensive analysis of every state law, rule, and regulation that shapes the teaching profession. Our findings show that progress is being made by states on the overall portfolio of teacher policies, but there is still much work to be done.
We wish the President would have looked at the Yearbook as he prepared for his address. Perhaps then he could have made reference not only to the hard work that teachers are already undertaking, but to the importance of reviving the health of the teaching profession and the ability of states to play a role in that effort.
We're tremendously excited and proud about the release of the State Teacher Policy Yearbook tomorrow, and we look forward to the discussion and action that it will inspire.