First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama in Kaneohe, Hawaii, on December 25, 2010.
One head-spinning piece of President Obama's state of the union address was his call for 100,000 new teachers. The president said:
"And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. In fact, 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. Your country needs you."
That sounds great. But here's the problem. School districts in California -- and in many other states -- have been laying off teachers, thousands of teachers, and likely will have to lay off more as governments make cutbacks. So why should young people who have a choice of professions choose teaching?
Obama doesn't answer the question, of course. And certainly, despite the layoffs, the country needs more and better science and math teachers. The problem, of course, is that it is young teachers who get laid off first in most American school districts -- because layoffs are done by seniority because of union rules. So a call for more teachers in these times only becomes credible if it's linked to blowing up seniority rules. Obama, to his credit, has been willing to take on teachers' unions even though they are an important part of the Democratic base. But he hasn't gone that far.