Obama said in an address to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, "We have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us. The time for finger-pointing is over. The time for holding ourselves accountable is here. The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy and unacceptable for our children, and we cannot afford to let it continue."
The president outlined a five-tier reform plan, starting with increased investments in early childhood initiatives:
- Fifty-five thousand first-time parents will receive "regular visits from trained nurses to help make sure their children are healthy and prepare them for school and life." In addition, there will be a boost of federal support in the form of "Early Learning Challenge" grants to states that develop plans to strengthen early education programs.
- States will be enabled to develop standards "that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test[,] but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity."
To help promote this goal, Obama said he would push for funding in the No Child Left Behind law to be more effectively tied to results. The Education Department, he said, would "back up this commitment to higher standards with a fund to invest in innovation in our school districts."
- Federal dollars have been set aside in the stimulus plan to help prevent teacher layoffs. He also reiterated a promise to support merit pay, as well as extra pay for math and science teachers with the goal of ending a shortage in both of those subjects.
- The promotion of educational "innovation and excellence" by renewing his campaign pledge to support charter schools. He called on states to lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools. In addition, he promoted the concept of a longer school calendar.
"I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," Obama said. "But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."
- In an effort to boost college access, the maximum Pell Grant award will be raised to $5,550 a year with indexing above the rate of inflation. This initiative also includes a $2,500 a year tuition tax credit for students from working families.
The national teacher's unions were generally surprised and supportive of the Presidents initiatives. Excerpts from the AP below:
The president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, Dennis van Roekel said, "President Obama always says he will do it with educators, not to them."
"That is a wonderful feeling, for the president of the United States to acknowledge and respect the professional knowledge and skills that those educators bring to every job in the school," van Roekel said.
Van Roekel insisted that Obama's call for teacher performance pay does not necessarily mean raises or bonuses would be tied to student test scores. It could mean more pay for board-certified teachers or for those who work in high-poverty, hard-to-staff schools, he said.
The union leaders also liked that Obama took on Republicans in his speech, saying the GOP has refused to spend more money on early childhood programs despite evidence they make a difference.
There also has been considerable friction over charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate independently, free from some of the rules that constrain regular schools. Many teachers are concerned that such schools drain money and talent from regular schools.
However, Obama said state limits on numbers of charter schools aren't "good for our children, our economy or our country." He said many of the innovations in education today are happening in charter schools.
Obama addressed the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a setting intended to underscore the need to boost academic performance, especially among Latino and black children who sometimes lag behind their white counterparts.
Broadly speaking, Obama wants changes at every level from before kindergarten through college. He is putting special focus on solving the high school dropout crisis and pushing states to adopt more rigorous academic standards.
Some of his promises already are in the works: Public schools will get an unprecedented amount of money — double the education budget under Bush — from the economic stimulus bill over the next two years. To get some of those dollars, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan insist states will have to prove they are making good progress in teacher quality, on data systems to track how students learn and on standards and tests.
After the scheduled event, Obama made a surprise visit with Duncan to a meeting of state school chiefs at a Washington hotel. Duncan said last Friday that states will get the first $44 billion by the end of the month.
Obama also wants kids to spend more time in school, with longer school days, school weeks and school years — a position he admitted will make him less popular with his school-age daughters.
Children in South Korea spend a month longer in school every year than do kids in the U.S., where the antiquated school calendar comes from the days when many people farmed and kids were needed in the fields.
"I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas, not with Malia and Sasha," Obama said as the crowd laughed. "But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."
"If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America," Obama said.
plez sez: finally! finally, a president who genuinely understands the value of education and what a handicap a poor education means to those who receive them.
george w. bush was born into a life of privilege and given a top notch education (private boarding schools, yale, harvard business school), but to this day probably doesn't understand the privilege that was extended to him just because he was the son of george h. w. bush.
BARACK OBAMA on the other hand was born to educated parents (his mother and father met at the university of hawaii), but being a minority afforded him an opportunity to see and feel the affects of a sub-par education on students, especially minority students. there is a reason why black and latino students do not perform as well as their white counterparts on standardized tests. hopefully, Obama's initiatives will begin to close the "education gap" in the united states.
Read the New York Times article about how Obama plans to change the education system in the US.
Read the Associated Press article about Obama backs merit pay for teachers and charter schools.
Read the CNN.com article about how Obama wants to change the education system from 'cradle to career'.