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State of the Union: Obama Faces New Challenges in Reforming Education

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When President Obama enters the House chamber to deliver his third State of the Union address Jan. 25, he will bring with him a track record of at least limited success in reforming education, a topic he's expected to feature in his remarks.

Obama has fulfilled or made progress on most of his campaign promises to improve the nation's schools, based on tracking done by, which monitors and fact checks political claims.

According to PolitiFact's numbers, Obama has kept 11 of his 48 education promises, compromised on four of them, and has made progress on another 24. He has broken one promise -- to double funding for after-school programs -- and eight others have stalled. One of the promises "in the works" is to reform No Child Left Behind.

In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama asked Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (most recently reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act), but in a revised form.

A few months later, the president and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered specific recommendations in their proposal for a new education law.

Among other things, they proposed more local flexibility, meaningful testing and improved measures of teacher effectiveness.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the House Education and the Workforce Committee considered reforms, but did not draft reauthorization bills during the 111th Congress.

At the time, Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Committee, said, "We're going to change No Child Left Behind."

Politics Daily reported last May that the new bills could emerge early in 2011.

Barack ObamaAnd U.S. Rep. John Kline, chair of the House Committee, recently told the Associated Press, "Everyone agrees this law needs reform."

In an op-ed published earlier this month, Secretary Duncan previewed the president's likely pitch during the upcoming State of the Union, which ties educational reforms to economic success now and in the future.
"With our economic and national security at risk, this is a goal Republicans, Democrats and all Americans can unite behind. ... While we don't agree on everything, our core goals are shared -- and we all want to fix NCLB to better support reform at the state and local level. So, let's do something together for our children that will build America's future, strengthen our economy and reflect well on us all."
But state and local reform is not what the American people really want, based on Gallup poll results released last September.

Gallup found that 63 percent of Americans approve of the federal government's current role in education or want greater federal involvement.

Broken down along party lines, "Sixty percent of Republicans favor less federal involvement in education while 63 percent of Democrats want to see more. By 44 percent to 33 percent, independents tend to favor more involvement over less," according to Gallup.

Public opinion, then, could work against finding a bipartisan solution, a reality perhaps recognized by the new chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, Rep. Duncan Hunter, who advocates incremental solutions rather than global ones.

"I like the piecemeal approach," Hunter told the AP. "If you do it in bite-size pieces, you can tell what needs to be tweaked as you go."

This micropartisan strategy could help President Obama, as it did President Clinton when he was faced in midterm with a new Congress controlled by Republicans.

Meanwhile, expect Obama to recognize the limits of legislation and reiterate a sentiment he expressed during his first State of the Union:
"These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home."
The question for his administration and for Congress is whether it will end there.

Disclosure: PolitiFact is a project of the St. Petersburg Times, which is owned by the same organization that employs this author.

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AZ Stang

Oh, great- now democrats want to reform education? I think they and the ACLU havre reformed the hell out of education since the 70's, dragging it down the bottom of the heap.

January 25 2011 at 8:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

What a bunch of bull. He will say one thing and do the other.The media will keep busy for a couple of days. Nancy will jump up and clap every two seconds.What has the government established so far besides running the country almost out of money. Address state of the union is for crazy people in Washington.And you vote them back in, gimmie a break!!!

January 24 2011 at 9:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

God Bless O(BAMA, he is changing things for the positive and making this nation stronger, better, and healthier

January 19 2011 at 12:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Vilvens

Federal government need to let local government take care of schools. Parents need to take responabilty for thier children. Local government need to get unions under control they are looking out for thier members not students. There are a lot of good teachers but there are bad ones that need to be removed from the system.

January 19 2011 at 7:09 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Children are wonderful. They are so special and full of possibilities. Our family structure in this country is weak and need serious reinforcement. The family is the cornerstone of society. Our beautiful children are exposed to too much in our society. This dysfunction in our society has taken away our children's innocent and has robbed them of their normal curiosiy.

I really believe that we can turn our failing educational system around in a metter of a few years by focusing on the primary grades, pre-kindergarten through the third grade. Start early in making education relevant by makeing sure children masters the basic fundalmentals in reading, math, science and writing. Our children should be bi-lingual. They will learn a foreign language fast in the primary grades. Children should not watch television period. There is nothing on T.V. for real mental growth for children or adults. GOD bless our children and may GOD continue to bless America and the world. GOD please remove evil,in all its forms, from our planet. We need peace.

January 19 2011 at 1:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow. he's run rampant over the economy, healthcare, foreign policy, the employment rate etc. and now he has his eye on education. Yay.

January 18 2011 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Linda's comment

Linda, I agree " YAY" ! Obama will continue his great success and reform our education system . GOD BLESS OBAMA.

January 19 2011 at 2:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Reforming education in my state, long misadministered by Democrats, looks like 62 students in a high school class after closing one in two schools. Until recently, school board members were supplied with new cars at municipal expense, however. Graduation rates have struggled to exceed 25%. If Democrat policies have failed under Democrat control, are you sure more will be better? The legacy of Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick constitute the inheritance of Detroit's students, God help them.

January 18 2011 at 7:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Ladies and Gentlemen,
You need to stop blaming the schools. You need to start with the parent(s). Students spend more time online than reading a book. Understand that many of the schools that are failing are outstanding in dealing with the daily struggle of students.
Schools and districts are losing a battle because of official making choices that do not give credit to teachers, students or schools.
In the state of Michigan,an ESL students are required by law to take the ACT. The students either have limited English or have been in American for less than two years. These scores bring down the school scores.
Education is cultural. Stop comparing our students to Asians, the Asian culture has a high respect for education whereas many of our students DO NOT!
Each school is different and learning takes place at home first not in the classroom.

January 18 2011 at 6:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Millions of dollars have been spent on low performing schools with little or no improvement. It is time to find another way than other increasing taxes with no results. Cannot imagine that Obama has the stomach to take on teachers' unions - he needs their votes. We need school choice/vouchers along with private management! Once government is out of the way along with their mandates, our schools will be successful again!

January 18 2011 at 5:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Dear vobox, please be advised. your children are "not" banned from praying in school. contrary to what u hear in media. It is the teacher and other employees of the state that are banned. If you child prays with fellow students in the lunch room, for example, to give thanks, the school has no right to stop it. As long as your child is not disrupting the classroom, he or she may pray at will. I wish sombody's kid wuld test that out. I would tell my kids to do it, but they are all over 24 years old, and have no kids of their own in school yet. But the prayer thing makes a great wedge isue, dosnt it?

January 18 2011 at 4:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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