Response to The State of The Union

The President’s focus on job creation and the need for a solid manufacturing base in our country is indeed just one of the remedies needed to fix our ailing economy. However, for us to continue to be competitive in today’s global economy, we must start looking at what happens right when students enter our schools, and support them throughout their education and onto a sustainable career path.

While it’s clear the President understands the importance of a strong education, we’re concerned about his mandate for states to keep students in high school until they graduate or reach the age of 18. While his plan does not necessarily affect the students who are excelling, the schools with students who are struggling could be deeply affected, which could cause conflicts with the requirements in NCLB and the President’s Race To The Top initiative.

If a student is failing, or simply struggling to meet imposed benchmarks, and a school is mandated to keep him or her there until age 18, this student could bring down school rankings and graduation rates. This in turn could reflect negatively on teacher, principal and staff evaluations. AFSA is firmly against test-based evaluations for punitive purposes, but since they are required under NCLB and inherent in education reforms, the President’s proposed mandate could pose serious problems for public schools already struggling to meet imposed standards, furthering the perception that public schools are failing.

None of the rules have been changed to allow for the resources, support and training needed to help these student populations, and without new support to supplement the President’s plan, the “competition” for education dollars would be almost impossible.

Additionally, while the President mentioned the impact of good teachers, he did not acknowledge the effect a strong principal has on a school. 
We agree with the President that teachers are important. But, research shows that principals are vital in student achievement, teacher retention and the overall success of a school. The President did not mention principals in his speech (his blueprint calls for more opportunities for teachers to become “leaders”), but we cannot overlook or overstate the importance of their role.

It is probably true that, as the President said, “Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies – just to make a difference.”

But, there is a good chance that behind every single one of those teachers was an outstanding principal who provided that teacher with the leadership, support, guidance and feedback to enable them to change that child’s life. We know that principals are the first ones to arrive at their school and the last ones to leave. Their selfless and unwavering commitment to their schools, students and staff is what makes the impossible an everyday reality in schools across the country.

While we appreciate the President’s commitment to education, we believe more is still needed to better prepare our students and a collaborative approach must be taken to address the unique needs of all schools. If we want to keep up with competing countries and commit to the President’s goal of strengthening our economy rebuilding our manufacturing base, our federal and local lawmakers should start at the beginning of the supply chain: our schools.