Sometimes what’s not said in a State of the Union address is just as relevant as what’s said. That’s what some in the education world are thinking, at least, about Trump’s lack of mention of their topic in last night’s address. Despite being the third-longest State of the Union in the past 50 years, Trump’s speech barely mentioned schools, students, or learning.
Trump’s only clear mention of the subject was a brief comment about vocational education: “Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.” As my colleague Alia Wong reported last night, this call for more vocational schools isn’t entirely consistent with his requested cuts to career and technical education in the 2018 budget.
Representative Joe Kennedy’s Democratic response to the address didn’t touch all that much on education, either, although it offered more than Trump’s address did. Kennedy spoke from Diman Regional Technical School, a vocational school in Fall River, Massachusetts, and noted that Democrats choose “good education [Americans] can afford.”
When it comes to mentions of education, how does this year’s SOTU stack up historically? An analysis of the States of the Union since 1993 reveals a range of frequencies, but Trump’s still stands out as the most lacking. Obama’s addresses are notable in their education references; he mentioned the word “education” 15 times in his 2013 address, and spent a significant portion of time in most of his addresses on particular goals, including investing in universal pre-k, improving high-school graduation rates, and expanding college access. George W. Bush’s addresses spent a bit less time on schools and education than Obama’s tended to, but he was known to mention education-related topics at least several times in an address, and he did often point to particular reform goals; his 2006 address, for example, described his plan to “train 70,000 high-school teachers to lead Advanced Placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math so they have a better chance at good, high-wage jobs.”