Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama urged the nation's governors Monday to improve public education by offering states financial incentives to do so.
"This year, as a condition of receiving access to Title I funds, we'll ask all states to put in place a plan to adopt and certify standards that are college- and career-ready in reading and math," Obama said. Title I refers to the programs set up by the U.S. Department of Education to distribute funds to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families.
"Once you've got those standards in place, you will be better able to better compete for funds to improve teaching and upgrade curriculums," he said in an address at the White House.
School districts that begin preparing educators to teach to higher standards will then compete for $4 billion in a program he calls Race to the Top.
Schools that embrace reforms, raise achievement and respond to student needs will be helped, he promised.
U.S. schools rank ninth in the world in math and 11th in science, Obama said. He lauded Massachusetts educators for having "upped their game" so that the state's students now tie for first in the world in science.
But, he said, "some states have actually done the opposite." Between 2005 and 2007, under the No Child Left Behind program, 11 states lowered their standards, he said. "That may make those states look better relative to other states, but it's not going to help our students keep up with their global competitors," he said.
Obama urged that politics not be allowed to get in the way of improving education. "We're tired of arguments between the left and the right, between reformers and teachers unions," he said. "We want to figure out what works and we want to make sure we're giving you the resources you need to implement what works."
Obama listed government efforts intended to put college education within the reach of working Americans - increasing Pell grants, continuing a $2,500 tax credit for four years of college tuition; beefing up education benefits provided to veterans under the GI Bill; and working to ease students' debt burdens by reforming the student loan program.
"If we can come together and do all this in Washington and statehouses and across party and ideology, we're going to raise the quality of American education," he said.