On the K-12 education front, the president made no news and no big mistakes. He scarcely even mentioned teachers. Save for “race to the top,” he mentioned none of his administration’s more controversial (and sometimes worthy) initiatives such as charter schools, teacher evaluations, and state waivers from No Child Left Behind. Unlike last year, he refrained from associating himself with the Common Core academic standards, thereby giving critics of those standards no new ammunition by which to target them as “Obamacore.” His only real policy blunder came in reviving his previous request to Congress to enact “universal” pre-school for four-year olds. Yes, it’s a crowd-pleaser, but it’s also a feckless, wasteful idea that would deliver a costly and unneeded windfall to millions of families that have already made acceptable pre-K arrangements for their children while creating a program too thin to do much good for the acutely disadvantaged youngsters that need it most. (Far better to reform Head Start, which already costs billions, is well-targeted on the “truly needy,” but today does almost nothing to prepare them academically for kindergarten.) Nor could Mr. Obama resist poking one more finger in Congress’s eye by declaring that, if they won’t enact his preschool program, he and the governors and philanthropists will just do it on their own.
— Chester E. Finn Jr. is senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University and president, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.