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Mark Shriver

Mark Shriver

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Do Big Things for Our Kids and Our Future

Posted: 01/28/11 11:51 AM ET

One of the most remarkable conventions of State of Union speeches is the meticulous rationing and apportioning of rhetoric on key issues from the president's and the nation's agenda. Some news organizations even scientifically analyze this phenomenon, breaking down the speech word for word and second by second.

Thus, what was remarkably unconventional about President Obama's speech Tuesday night was the extraordinary bandwidth he dedicated to a single issue: education. On CNN, David Gergen pointed out that the President had, in essence, made Education Secretary Arne Duncan the most important member of the cabinet.

The weight President Obama gave to education wasn't about emphasis; it was about realignment. If acted upon, a re-imagined education system could spark a fundamental new direction for America's future.

Indeed, when we think about all the other issues the President spoke to -- infrastructure, a new energy economy, job creation, military readiness -- it's often been said that the long-term solutions to all our challenges come back to one place: the classroom.

As the budget battle begins in earnest, we must swap out our expired lenses on education spending. As the President made clear in both prose and poetry, education must be about investment, innovation and accelerating the evolution of our nation in the midst of a global economic revolution.

The debate on education in the coming year will be robust and intense. Still, there are some key fundamentals to which we should adhere.

Start Early -- The power of early childhood education is undisputed but overlooked. Ensuring that every child aged zero to five gets access to quality education would set them on a surer path for academic success, add $2 trillion to our nation's GDP within a generation and break the cycle of poverty in the United States.

Reach All Kids -- The education deficit may be greatest in rural America, where one in four kids live in poverty, up from one in five just a few years ago. As Congress considers modernizing the cornerstone of our national education policy -- the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act -- we need to eliminate loopholes and other disparities that make it harder for rural schools to compete for federal investment.

Shared Responsibility -- The President smartly shifted the conversation from Washington, DC to states, local communities and living rooms. Some of the most innovative and effective work is happening through public-private partnerships -- like the ones Save the Children's U.S. Programs run -- where the work of underserved local schools is complemented by community partners. The result is spectacular academic achievement for the kids that are served.

When the President spoke so eloquently about America's future this week, the promise of our national spirit and our role as a "light to the world," every parent knows that the pathways to these aspirations are gathered around the dinner table every night.

Now it's time to act on the President's words, invest in education and Do Big Things for America's future.