For all of the anticipation among educators that Obama's State of the Union address would place school reform front and center, the speech was surprisingly light on education, largely rehashing past rhetoric and skimming substance. This was strategic--Obama has just a year left to govern before his next election contest and he faces a less-friendly Congress than in 2009, when his address also emphasized education. As Josh Green pointed out, the speech seemed designed to "refocus the nation's attention where Obama would like it to be." Last night was about reminding everyone where he stands, rather than surprising with anything new.
The president tied American education to his message of economic investment, echoing his past calls for using schools as a means to improve international competitiveness. "If we want to win the future," he said, "if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas--then we also have to win the race to educate our kids."
He repeated his goal that America might have the world's highest percentage of college graduates by the end of the decade, briefly nodded to the roles communities and families play for students (the familiar, "make sure the TV is turned off" line), and lent his support to the struggling DREAM Act, which aims to create a path to citizenship for high-performing undocumented students. But despite his attention to education, the policy specifics the president offered seemed vague. For example, in describing the long-delayed reauthorization of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, the president only called for "a law that is more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids."