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State of the Union Edu-Cheat Sheet

By Alyson Klein — January 24, 2011 2 min read
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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan better be practicing his very best “supportive reaction” face, because he’s going to get a lot of camera time Tuesday night during the State of the Union address.

President Barack Obama is expected to talk a lot about K-12 policy, call on Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and link his education agenda (as outlined in this handy-dandy, nearly year-old blueprint) to the nation’s economic future (possibly using the words “Sputnik” moment.)

And my guess is that he’ll brag about his administration’s many accomplishments on education, including of course:

• The $4 billion Race to the Top competition, which got a lot of states to revisit tenure laws, build data systems, and raise charter school caps. Obama may also mention that his administration wants to see the program, and the Investing in Innovation grants, extended for an additional year, or more.

• The fact that Race to the Top got a lot of states to sign on for the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is aimed at producing uniform, rigorous standards in math and reading.

• The Race to the Top Common Assessments program, which provided $350 million to 44 states to help create richer, more uniform tests.

• The changes to the student loan program that helped boost the size of Pell Grants (Those were included in the health-care-overhaul bill.)

He may also highlight:

• The Investing in Innovation Grant program—$650 million to scale up promising practices in education (some of which went to well-known organizations, like KIPP and Teach for America.)

• School Improvement Grants—$3.5 billion to help turnaround low-performing schools

And President Obama may also talk about the need to keep funding for education intact and shore up the Pell Grant program. He’ll probably discuss the blueprint in nonwonky terms, maybe mentioning that it will reward schools for student growth, and empower states to figure out what the best interventions are for most schools, and get all kids ready to enter college or a career. He may also highlight efforts to provide “wrap-around” services to kids, particularly through the very popular Promise Neighborhood Initiative.

And he may talk about the need to use student data to figure out who our best teachers are and reward them, as well as help struggling teachers improve.

He’ll probably frame all this as something that can be bipartisan, and that is vital for our nation’s future.

Will he unveil any new ideas on K-12? My educated guess, probably not.

Most of the country isn’t familiar with the blueprint, so my guess he’ll be talking about that and making it sound somewhat new. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave a speech today at ASCD in which he talked about the administration’s ESEA priorities. He got all his favorite phrases, including the “need to take to scale what’s working,” “dramatically accelerate the rate of change,” and “put politics and ideology aside and do what’s right for our children.”

But he didn’t hint at any new initiatives that could come up tomorrow. Of course, there’s always the possibility he doesn’t want to scoop the president.

Photo credit: Alex Brandon/AP