The president outlined a five-tier reform plan, starting with increased investments in early childhood initiatives. Obama noted that the recently passed $787 billion stimulus plan includes an additional $5 billion for Head Start, a program to help low-income families. He highlighted a proposal 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.”
Second, Obama called for an end to “what has become a race to the bottom in our schools” through lower testing standards. Echoing former President Bush’s call to end “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” Obama said states needed to stop “low-balling expectations” for students. “The solution to low test scores is not lower standards; it’s tougher, clearer standards,” he argued.
At the same time, however, he urged states 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.”
Obama’s third tier focused on teacher training and recruitment. He noted that federal dollars had 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.
At the same time, however, the president warned that ineffective teachers should not be allowed to remain on the job. “If a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.”
Fourth, Obama called for 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.
He also urged 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.”
Obama’s final reform initiative focused on higher education. Among other things, the president promised to boost college access by raising the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,550 a year and indexing it above inflation. He also promised to push for a $2,500 a year tuition tax credit for students from working families.
“We need to move beyond the worn fights of the 20th century if we are going to succeed in the 21st century. I know there are some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time. But we don’t have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term.” [bron: o.a. CNN-politics]