While many of the Falls Church School System’s teachers and support staff were attending Tuesday night’s School Board meeting to petition for some modest increase in salaries (being aware that a freeze even in a slow-growth economy amounts to a pay cut), across the Potomac President Obama was challenging the nation in his State of the Union address to step up the national educational effort. The contrasting scenes, taking place only a few miles apart as the crow flies, could not be more pronounced.
The President noted that “over the next 10 years, nearly half of all the new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.” He added, “We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the Science Fair.”
That line drew one of the biggest and most sustained standing ovations from the joint session of Congress.
“Let’s also remember,” the President intoned, “that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders.’ Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.”
He went on to say, “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones,” noting that with so many Baby Boomers retiring from teaching, another 100,000 new teachers need to be prepared to educate in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
“To every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher,” Obama said. “Your country needs you.”
But in nearby Falls Church at the very same moment, teachers serving the school system in the jurisdiction with the highest household income of any in the entire U.S. were appealing, hat in hand, not to be subjected to a pay cut.
President Obama emphasized, “Are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed?”
Falls Church’s School System, as we all know, is exemplary, one of the finest in the U.S. Only through great ingenuity and sacrifice has the system been able to sustain deep austerity cuts in recent years while holding the quality of education intact.
The President’s challenge applies not to it, but to the Falls Church public. Does it have the will and fortitude to step up and preserve the quality of its schools?