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State Of The Union: A Quick Wrap On Education

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address in Washington on Tuesday.
Kevin Dietsch
President Obama delivers his State of the Union address in Washington on Tuesday.

Right off the bat, the president touted the fact that more kids are graduating from high school and college than ever before. "We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world," he said in Tuesday's State of the Union speech. "And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record."

That's true, according to the latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called "the nation's report card." But compared with other industrialized nations, American 15-year-olds, for example, still do poorly, especially in math.

Some of the president's supporters were disappointed that he did not include in his speech any mention of universal preschool education for 4-year-olds, something the administration talked a lot about last year. It was totally absent from his speech.

The president also did not elaborate on how his administration would build on some of the education initiatives he launched six years ago, like his push for higher academic standards and better standardized tests.

Instead, he tied his education agenda to the economy and his promise to make a college education more affordable.

He said, "By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education."

But too many Americans, the president said, are priced out of the education they need. "That's why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero."

The administration has argued that 9 million full- and part-time students would benefit. It's a $60 billion proposal that congressional Republicans say has virtually no chance of support for funding it.

Not surprisingly, House Speaker John Boehner showed little enthusiasm for any of this in his response to the speech. He said in a statement: "The State of the Union is a chance to start anew, but all the president offered tonight is more taxes, more government, and more of the same approach that has failed middle-class families."

The president called on the private sector to offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships, especially in high-tech areas like coding, nursing and robotics.

And finally, in reference to the growing concern that Americans' privacy and the nation's trade secrets are at risk, the president said, "No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids."

The administration is expected to propose the "Student Digital Privacy Act," a measure designed to ensure that the information schools collect about kids is used only for educational purposes. It would prevent private companies that have contracts with schools from selling data they gain through those contracts. To date, 20 states have passed similar legislation and 75 companies have agreed to comply.

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