Obama Praises Teachers and Calls for Mandatory Attendance

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Should students be required to remain in school until age 18? That was the one concrete proposal for K-12 students in President Obama's State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.

The president, who focused his speech on "leveling the playing field" when it comes to taxes and economic policy, also had high praise for teachers and expressed his support for local authority in public education.

In fact, the president seemed to go out of his way to acknowledge the role of teachers, citing their influence in students' lives and the climate in the country that often fails to acknowledge that. He said:

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones.

Of course, that also means the establishment of teacher evaluation systems, one of the tenets of his administration under the education secretary, Arne Duncan. And as New York is finding out, that's a goal that is easy to articulate and tough to negotiate.

The president also called for an end to teaching to the test -- something that teachers' unions say is the inevitable result of teacher evaluation systems that place a heavy emphasis on students' improvement on standardized tests.

And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making.

But the president's defense of teachers, like much of the rest of the speech, had clear political goals, and was both a response to the anti-teacher rhetoric and policies in many states, and an attempt to elicit the support and get-out-the-vote efforts of labor unions -- particularly the teachers' unions -- when he seeks re-election this year.

The president's biggest education initiatives in the speech were in the area of higher education and affordability. As for his call on states to mandate school attendance until age 18, commentators were already saying after the speech that it is D.I.T.W. -- dead in the water.

You can watch and read the entire speech, and see the fact checking by New York Times reporters, in a neat interactive video transcript on nytimes.com.

Also in the news on Wednesday: Eva Moskowitz is on the move, The Daily News reports.

Ms. Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman who heads the Success Academy charter schools, may open six more schools in 2013, and The News says that two of them may be slated for the Upper East Side, in District 2.

Ms. Moskowitz is now opening two more schools in Brooklyn, one in middle-class Cobble Hill.

Some critics say this shift is an effort by Moskowitz to shore up political support for charter schools among middle class families.

But Moskowitz says she is focused on providing more options to neighborhoods around the city, noting District 2 serves a mix of students, since 60% are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced school lunch.

“When you have a zoned school, you are really drawing a very small line around a school. Charter schools are not that way. When you serve the district, it’s way more diverse,” she said.

Also in The News, Juan Gonzalez reports in his column on a new audit by the city comptroller, John C. Liu, which found that children who are entitled to special education services are not getting them.

Speech, occupational and physical therapy, vision and hearing services were not made available to 72,306 of 285,736 students referred for such help, Liu found in his review of an $839-million program also known as Direct Student Services.

The audit found, he says, that:

Pre-schoolers were especially shut out. Only 34% of the city’s 43,000 pre-schoolers received the help they were entitled to, and those in the poorest school districts were the most neglected.

Has your child in the New York City public school system received the special education services to which he or she is entitled? You can respond in the query below.

The Local news blog in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, Brooklyn -- a collaboration of The New York Times and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism -- has an interview on Wednesday with the new superintendent of District 13, Barbara Freeman.

In the interview, conducted by Nancy Bruni, who is active in education in Brooklyn, Ms. Freeman throws her support behind a plan by Public School 287 Bailey K. Ashford to expand into a middle school, "part of an effort to boost middle schools across Fort Greene and Clinton Hill."

Ms. Freeman comes to the district with a solid reputation, Ms. Bruni reports:

Ms. Freeman is best known for her leadership of P.S./M.S. 161 in Harlem, which was on a state closure list when she took over in 1999. Within a year, the city proposed to shut it down in favor of an Edison charter school, but parents fought off the takeover — and Ms. Freeman subsequently led the school to higher test scores and attendance rates, while also increasing accountability.

On this Wednesday, Maria Newman, the community editor for SchoolBook, will be following along as Vasiliy Bogin, the director of a school in Russia, visits two of the city’s public schools attended by two of his former students.

Mr. Boglin is the head of The New Humanitarian School in Moscow, which some Times readers will remember as the private school attended by the children of Clifford Levy, who was then The New York Times Moscow bureau chief. Mr. Levy wrote in the Times Magazine in September about his and his wife’s decision to send their children to a Russian school where all instruction was in the native language, rather than to an international school where English would be the dominant language and most of their classmates would be foreigners like them.

Mr. Bogin founded his progressive, experimental school shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He has come to New York to visit schools to see how they differ from, and how they are like, his school. Like many of his counterparts at New York City schools, Mr. Bogin emphasizes critical thinking. He also spends a lot of time evaluating teachers and their methods, at a time when teacher evaluations are a contentious topic in American schools.

He will be visiting P.S. 321 William Penn in Park Slope, and Bard High School Early College.

Hearings and demonstrations on school closings and revampings continue on Wednesday. A closing hearing will be held at P.S. 14 Cornelius Vanderbilt on Staten Island at 6 p.m.

Also at 6 p.m., parents, teachers, students and community members are being asked to gather at Herbert H. Lehman High School to discuss the city's plan to close the school, fire as many as half the staff members, give the school a new name and reopen it. It is one of 33 city schools facing that fate.

The Learning Network is calling for student reactions to the State of the Union and the rebuttal by Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican of Indiana.