In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated that education reform is a priority for his administration, asking citizens to imagine “a country that leads the world in educating its people.” Although K-12 issues were not at the forefront of his address, the president tied investments in education to a strong economy.

Unlike last year’s State of the Union address, in which President Obama urged Congress to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Act before the start of the current school year, Obama spent little of yesterday’s speech discussing K-12 education reforms, despite the fact that the administration is poised to announce the first round of state waivers from some provisions of No Child Left Behind. (The Department of Education may award waivers to as many as 8 or 9 states in the first announcement).

The president did issue a challenge to create a competitive grant program for states and school districts to reform the teacher profession. According to the Blueprint for an America Built to Last, released by the White House during the address, this new competition would make colleges of education more selective, allow for greater collaboration between teachers, create a teacher evaluation system based on multiple measures (not just student test scores), and foster more autonomy in the classroom while promoting accountability.  

The president’s Blueprint states that research indicates great teachers dramatically increase a student’s lifetime earning potential. Research also proves that principals are second only to teachers among school-related factors contributing to student learning—principals create the conditions and cultures that encourage effective teaching and learning environments. Principals need “the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones,” said President Obama. Education policies must recognize the critical role principals play. School leaders and all instructional staff must be supported through high-quality professional learning opportunities to best prepare the next generation of successful students.

At a time of increased “philosophical differences” between the two political parties, President Obama requested a balanced and fair deficit reduction plan, and recognized that “tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers.” To maintain the current economic growth and build a sustainable economy, federal education investments must be maintained. While NAESP expects another year to pass before Congress rewrites No Child Left Behind, and yet another budget battle to reduce the effects of the across-the-board federal budget cuts, set to take place in early 2013, NAESP looks forward to working with both political parties as tough choices are made to protect our critical investmen

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