January 28, 2014

Much to digest and dissect: There’s a lot to unpack here. Regarding college, it is true that a greater number of Americans are graduating now compared with the past generation. In 2012, 33.5 percent of U.S. citizens between the ages of 25 and 29 held a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the federal government. In 1971, that figure was 21.9 percent. But college attainment has stalled, and it remains flat for low-income Americans, the population that President Obama emphasized.

Assessing performance: Regarding expectations and performance in K-12, the administration’s Race to the Top competition may have raised expectations, but the jury is out on whether it has improved performance. Some jurisdictions that have received grants under the contest — including Tennessee and the District of Columbia — have seen an increase in student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally administered test. But others have not, and critics of the program question its value.

Common Core K-12: By referring to “more challenging curriculums” and new testing, the president is making a veiled reference to the controversial Common Core K-12 standards in math and reading, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District.

The standards were created by the states but with heavy encouragement by the Obama administration, leading critics to say that they represented a power grab by the president and an intrusion by Washington into education, which is historically controlled by states and districts.

The president was careful in these remarks not to take credit for Common Core — or to even mention it by name — at the risk of fueling his critics.

Time will tell: It is unclear whether the Common Core standards, Race to the Top and other reforms propelled by the administration are working, and it could be years before the nation learns if this is true.

— Lyndsey Layton

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