Obama Lays Out Education Priorities

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Hidden deep within the stimulus bill was a big pot of money for the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to change education in America: $4.3 billion for “incentive grants” which will be awarded to states on a competitive basis based on the state’s ability to do things Duncan and Obama want; and $650 million, which Duncan can award directly to school districts, non-profits or public/private partnerships, for stuff that pleases Obama and Duncan. These pools of money, combined with new requirements that are affixed to about $40 billion in stimulus money to fill state revenue drops, are likely to make Duncan one of the most influential educators of his generation. So what’s the plan?

Today Obama laid out the broad sweep of his education ambitions. His speech, which he delivered to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Congress, ran nearly five thousand words. (A link to the full address is here. ALSO: The White House fact sheet on education priorities is here.) After the jump, however, you can read my attempt to edit the speech down to less than 500 words.

[T]he time for finger-pointing is over. The time for holding ourselves accountable is here.  What’s required is not simply new investments, but new reforms. It is time to expect more from our students. It is time to start rewarding good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. It is time to demand results from government at every level. . . [T]he American Recovery and Reinvestment Act I signed into law invests $5 billion in growing Early Head Start and Head Start, expanding access to quality child care for 150,000 more children from working families, and doing more for children with special needs. . . . [W]e are going to offer 55,000 first-time parents regular visits from trained nurses to help make sure their children are healthy and prepare them for school and life. . . .  We will end what has become a race to the bottom in our schools and instead, spur a race to the top by encouraging better standards and assessments. . . . The solution to low test scores is not lower standards – it’s tougher, clearer standards. . . . [T]oday, I am calling on a new generation of Americans to step forward and serve our country in our classrooms. . . . Right now, there are caps on how many charter schools are allowed in some states, no matter how well they are preparing our students . . . . [A]ny expansion of charter schools must not result in the spread of mediocrity, but in the advancement of excellence. That will require states adopting both a rigorous selection and review process to ensure that a charter school’s autonomy is coupled with greater accountability . . . Provided this greater accountability, I call on states to reform their charter rules, and lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools, wherever such caps are in place. . . . And to any student who’s watching, I say this: don’t even think about dropping out of school. As I said a couple of weeks ago, dropping out is quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country, and it is not an option – not anymore. . . . Never has a college degree been more important. And never has it been more expensive. . . . That is why will simplify federal college assistance forms so it doesn’t take a PhD to apply for financial aid. And that is why we are already taking steps to make college or technical training affordable. . . . . The bottom line is that no government policies will make any difference unless we also hold ourselves more accountable as parents. Because government, no matter how wise or efficient, cannot turn off the TV or put away the video games. Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your children leave for school on time and do their homework when they get back at night.

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