2014 State of the Union: A Recap for Busy Teachers

By Ross Brenneman — January 29, 2014 5 min read
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Last night, before a difficult Congress and a cynical Twitterati, President Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union address.

But maybe you didn’t watch it, or maybe you did and need a refresher (you were up late on a school night, after all, as long as you weren’t in the frozen South). So here’s a recap of what happened:

How long was the speech?

Sixty-five minutes and 10 seconds, including about 63 minutes of applause.

How many people watched?

The numbers still haven’t been released, but Twitter reports that users sent over 1.7 million tweets using the #SOTU hashtag. (See update, below.)

Did he mention teachers?

In the very first line!

“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 levels in more than three decades,” he said.

And that got a huge applause?

Well no, but—

What? Did his next line get applause?

Yes, and while teachers loved the early mention, many noted the lack of congressional praise:

Is that fair?

Well, Obama started the speech with a series of descriptions of everyday Americans, spanning a variety of lifestyles. Of the seven examples he gave, including the teacher line, three got applause. The first applause line celebrated entrepreneurs working in a recovering economy; the second, rural doctors who could now give affordable prescriptions under Obamacare (only half the audience clapped, to be clear); and the third was for military families reunited after the War in Afghanistan.

So I don’t think this was any kind of congressional jilt of teachers as much as an indication of the country’s biggest and most exhausting struggles over the past decade.

Alright, let’s talk turkey, and by turkey I mean, what did the president say about education?

The education section of the president’s speech started in earnest just over 25 minutes into the speech. Some wished he had gotten there sooner.

What did he talk about? Oh God, is there going to be another Race to the Top?

He spent only a few minutes on education, giving mention to early learning and, yes, Race to the Top, although not a new version, as detailed on the Politics K-12 blog. He also made a somewhat indirect defense of the Common Core State Standards—or at least more rigorous standards in general.

On the topic of Race to the Top, AFT President Randi Weingarten noticed a major applause disparity (which actually was pretty noticeable for anyone following education policy; I swear, even I spotted it):

Meanwhile, Bill Maher, who took over Huffington Post’s Twitter account last night (because why not), looked at what the speech didn’t talk about:

Less prominent Tweeters pointed out other education issues that were missing from the speech:

And one more, recognizing the issue that is keeping parents across the country up at night these days:

Did the Education Department offer any response?

Funny you should mention it, me-pretending-to-be-you: At the end of the night, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, trying to build off the momentum of the speech, took to Twitter to do an #askarne chat. It went, um ... “well” probably wouldn’t be the best word. For example:

He didn’t answer that one. (He only answered nine questions in total, actually.) My Politics K-12 colleagues captured the gist of the conversation:

What were the two biggest lines of the speech?

President Obama hit a grand slam among the Democratic side of his audience with this one:

“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship—and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

But the biggest round of applause, by far, went to Army Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, who suffered major injuries from a roadside bomb during his 10th tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Did anything else happen on Twitter that teachers should know about?

Washington schools chancellor Kaya Henderson gave a shout-out to one of Michelle Obama’s guests, D.C. teacher Kathy Hollowell-Makle. Henderson also revealed that DCPS had selected Hollowell-Makle as a representative when the White House called and asked.

If you still want more State of the Union, here’s the full address, courtesy of The New York Times; the education section starts at 44:50:

UPDATE (Jan. 30): TV ratings firm Nielsen estimates that across 13 networks, the speech had about 33.3 million viewers, a 14-year low. That does not include live-streaming options.

Image: President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. —Larry Downing/Reuters

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.