“His goals are the right ones,” says Jack Jennings, founder of the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocacy group on education, which draws its funding from charitable foundations. “We lack comprehensive school reform in the United States,” he says, adding that Obama’s objectives bring some crucial educational issues into the public spotlight.
Preschool, for instance, can be vital stepping stone that prepares children for success in elementary school. And rebooting high school curriculums could make a big difference in the nation’s economic and social life.
Currently, only 34 percent of American fourth-graders and 30 percent of eighth-graders are at least proficient in science, according to 2011 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
For high schoolers, the results are even worse: Just 21 percent of high school seniors ranked as proficient.
It’s significant, Mr. Jennings says, that Obama stepped over a traditional boundary line for presidents, stating in blunt terms that what is taught in US high schools needs to change.
Obama said that part of the change should be to offer stronger career-oriented education, citing the way German schools graduate “their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges.”
The president's goals won't be easy to reach, given that his second-term attention span appears to be spread among many priorities, from deficit reduction to immigration reform to gun control.
Some analysts of the US education system say, moreover, that Obama still isn’t putting forward a coherent overall policy.