State of the Union: Education Excerpts

President Obama dedicated a significant portion of his 2011 State of the Union speech to education. You can read the whole speech here.

Here are the excerpts:

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.  It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.  Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.  We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility.  When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.  But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.  To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids. 

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.  Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver.  Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado — located on turf between two rival gangs.  But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma.  Most will be the first in their families to go to college.  And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.”  That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom.  In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.”  Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.  We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.  And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math. 

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you. 

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma.  To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do. 

      Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges.  Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina.  Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town.  One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old.  And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too.  As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago:  By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. 

One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens.  Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation. 


From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

We do big things.


  1. I wish there were more grants for education, especially for young adults like myself who cant afford to go college and without depending on your parents income

  2. i hope that children that goes to school and will go to school will injoy school becuase if they dont injoy it they will not learn.

  3. I agree with what was said in the State of the Union speech by what Obama said, “When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.” So what is happening in our state of Texas where our Governor is shutting down 13 schools. What happens to the environment that our children have known, and teachers that know them, and no longer can feel that way when their school is being closed.

  4. I find it fascinating how, instead of fixing what is broken, more money is given in an effort to encourage compliance to the existing system. Instead of even attempting to fix anything, schools and students are being pressured by both bribes and blackmail to work under the current system. This country’s education system is entirely broken, and completely reforming it is the only way to have any actual progress.

    A student’s work cannot be judged by anyone but himself. To say we are behind other countries in anything is irrelevant; to force your nation’s youth to do more work simply because it looks better on paper… You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

  5. It’s inspiring to read how much emphasis is being put on education, and it’s nice to see how people are really starting to understand the importance of raising our standards to better our education system. Personally I’ve been going to school for over 7 years and am approaching the culmination of completing my Masters Degree in Educational Counseling. The state of Minnesota has done a great job of really eliminating the counseling position, and replacing them with other “qualified” individuals. Where are out counselors going?? I’m sorry but you cannot replace an individual who has been properly trained to handle difficult situations as it pertains to depression, low SES, suicide, multicultural issues, among many many more. I know other states have done a great job of really trying to emphasize the school counselor and the proper ratio at which counselors should work with. Having a school counselor be the only counselor in a district of 800 students is NOT ideal. With the economy down and the overwhelming amount of stress being put on families, I think the last thing you need to remove from a school system is the school counselor. The individual who can work with students in order to bring out their best potential, and work though difficult situations. The department of education needs to step up and put their best foot forward in order to help ensure every school can reach their potential by having school counselors available to every student. I know a lot of emphasis was put on teachers and principals but I feel that after years of training and a lot of school debt in order to obtain a degree where I can make a difference; that it’s disheartening to see the profession slowly start to be cut out of school districts in this state. It scares me to see what the result of this decision by some districts will have on their students.

  6. Thank you for highlighting education in your State of the Union speech this week. I appreciated you reminding our nation of the immense respect due to our educators and showing the responsibility as being shared by family, community, and school.

    I resonate with your call for caring young people to consider serving our nation as teachers. I share that desire to make a difference; however, I am a 55-year old. Because of staying home to raise my children and later, a position being eliminated by budget cuts, I have only taught eight years in public and private schools. After several years of looking a bit and now a full year of searching and working hard at selling myself (about five hours per week), I have not found a place to serve more than one day per week. Another con in my situation may be that I am looking in Michigan (but willing to relocate within many parts of the state). I am not idle and have five part-time jobs in schools and community. Money is not the issue for me as my husband earns a decent wage, but making about $15,000 last year for 35+ hours of work isn’t very encouraging.

    I feel that I have much to offer. I was an honor student who routinely has worked hard and creatively. I raised four children who are now professionally successful. I stay current in my three certified areas and am almost finished with a MAE. I have this burning passion to teach and make a difference in my certified areas for another decade or more.

    I know there are education programs for folks to make teaching a second career. I don’t even need that. I am certified and experienced, mentally sharp, in good physical shape. What can an older, Caucasian female do to convince administrators that she is a good choice as a teacher?

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