March 10th, 2009
10:56 AM ET
14 years ago

Obama makes call for sweeping education reform

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Obama laid out his education agenda Tuesday."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama began to flush out the details of one of his signature campaign promises Tuesday, outlining his plan for a major overhaul of the country's education system.

Watch: President Obama calls for new teachers

"We have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us," Obama warned in an address to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "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," he said.

The president called for, among other things, an end to the practice of lowering state reading and math standards, as well as an end to the use of what he said was ineffective "off-the-shelf" student testing.

He also called for 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."

The president pledged to push for a major expansion of performance-based pay programs and bonuses for effective teachers. He chastised his own party's traditional opposition to such programs, arguing that "supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom."

Obama also noted that the recently-passed $787 billion stimulus package will allow the U.S. Department of Education to help states upgrade data systems to better measure both student progress and teacher effectiveness.

The stimulus plan, he said, will provide an additional $5 billion for the Head Start program, as well as expand access to child care for an estimated 150,000 children.

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.

In promoting his program, the president called for an end to the "partisanship and petty bickering" that many observers believe has typically defined education policy debates in the past.

"We need to move beyond the worn fights of the 20th century if we are going to succeed in the 21st century," he said.

Filed under: Education • President Obama
soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. Scott, Tucson

    Sounds like Obama found one of George Bush's old education speeches. Nothing new here from the master of change.

    March 10, 2009 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  2. stillsupportspresident

    It isn't just the school, or just the parent, or just the standardized test or just the lack of funds for college. Obama has introduced a new idea of know, what women and mothers have been doing for centuries but government seems to think is outrageous until this administration. That is why people want him to only focus on one if everything is not interconnected. It is all of those factors. Whites believe that all Black parents are bad and that is the source of all problems. You could not be more wrong. There are many Black students who succeed and don't make the headlines since no one likes stories of Black success...look at how they treat Obama and his wife. There are more Michelles out there than people know. It is all of the the factors' interrelatedness that have to be explored; the problems: the waste of time tests like Florida's FCAT, removing the arts, not involving parents, parents not wanting to be involved, the general disrespect of education in the West vs. East, money allocated for bombs not books...many factors. Stop blaming parents who may not have the resources to educate their child and may themselves have been discouraged from learning and incorporate goodwill in all of these areas if we are to see improvement. This too, will involve everyone and not just Obama saving a bunch of lazy people of every hue. Every American is responsible for a better education for all of our youth.

    March 10, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  3. Jason

    We all want our schools to be the best, our children the most adept, and our success levels at the top of the world. It isn't going to happen anytime soon.
    Want REAL education reform? Keep the POLITICIANS out of the process of reform and let EDUCATORS map out the way. Reform by poltical whim has never worked, and will never work.
    In Florida, they want a champagne education system on a generic beer budget. The result? Schools closing, Programs gone, Teachers lost to other states, and not an iota of improvement to be seen.

    March 10, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  4. MK, Florida

    Let's be fair to our teachers. A longer school calendar should give them more salary.

    Already, I believe that our teachers are underpaid.

    March 10, 2009 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  5. No More Unions

    Just as GM will never be a better car company because the UAW... education in this country will never improve until we can do away with the teachers unions... these unions have way too much power and have continously rewarded themselves despite the decline in education... much like the auto industry, finance industry, and Congress, performance is no longer part of the equation... these idiots keep on giving themselves raises and patting themselves on the back, as everything around them goes to waste. It is time to keep track of performance and fire incompetent teachers.

    March 10, 2009 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  6. Dennis

    Frankly what I saw when my kids were in school is that the biggest problem was parents that really weren't interested in the education of their kids. Too many were far too busy to be a parent. Now my daughter is in college training to be an elementary teacher. She can already identify the single most important factor in a student's success, and that is parental involvement. Until we fix what is broken at home, education will not get any better.

    March 10, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    @ Jon in CA

    Liar. If Obama was a "Union tool" then why is he taking a position contrary to the unions on merit-based teacher pay, hmmmmm? No answer? Just pretending that FACT isn't out there?

    March 10, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  8. Tom in Delaware

    "The time for finger-pointing is over. The time for holding ourselves accountable is here."

    Ha – Practice what you preach.

    March 10, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  9. Concerned parent

    I hate to break this to you folks, but it DOES all start and end with the parents. Both of my children went through/going public school. It would have been disastrous if I relied completely on the schools, any schools, for their education. Here's was it takes to make a child successful in school and in life: Love them deeply from before they're even born; begin to teach them from the day they are born; read to them; take an active interest in their lives and thoughts; be aware enough to understand their strengths and weaknesses and build improvement on both; expose them to thoughts and ideas and teach them how to think; guide them; give them rules; make them undersand that doing well in school and going to college are NOT optional; give them the gifts of self-esteem and self-worth; keep track of where they are and what they're doing; feed them properly and make sure they get enough sleep; help them with homework or seek help if you can't do it; teach them the arts and literature; have them watch NatGeo and Discovery and History and not just SpongeBob; keep them away from inappropriate movies, music, video games; take them to church; teach them to love; I could go on and on but you get the picture.

    Older child now at good private university on near full scholarship. Younger child straight-A student who already skipped a grade in school.

    It's never been the schools' job to teach my's MY job and the school is one tool I use.

    March 10, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  10. wait a minute

    Unions were good in the beginning, but now we have serious problems with unions. However, when the economy is so bad, we should be able to find qualified teachers from dismissed qualified teachers from industries for physics and math. It's necessary to hire teachers trained in the field they teach, or else the students can see through that they don't know what they are talking about.

    March 10, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  11. constantly amazed

    Education Reform always has been and will continue to be stymied by the NEA. They do not want their membership held accountable and Teddy Kennedy has always stepped in to make sure they won't be. As long as there are liberals, education will not improve, they realize that their jig would be up with an educated population.

    March 10, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  12. wait a minute

    We badly need good teachers for physics, math, statistics, chemistry and biology. Modern biology is no longer a science without the need for math and statistics. Bioinformatics is expected in modern biology.

    Our high school science education used to be physics last. President Obama needs to talk with Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, who started the Physics First for science education movement. Check out the ARISE homepage at

    March 10, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  13. Annette

    I was really inspired by the President's comment today on Education. This is the wake up call that all Americans need to hear, and when the President calls for parents and teachers to prepare our children for the future. I can't help but heed the call. Thanks Prez.

    March 10, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  14. What are you talking about

    You want to solve alot of our social issues we have right now, introduce the 30-hour work week.

    March 10, 2009 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  15. RJN

    The reason nothing will come of all this is Sasha and Malia go to a private school so no big need to fix the public education.
    I understand the security aspect of sending them to a private school, but you are the President of the United States and have no confidence in the public sector, why would we believe you are going to fix it.
    For what or for who???

    March 10, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  16. Cheryl

    I live in MIlwaukee and vouchers are not the answer. It is a program that allows schools to discriminate against special education students. We have schools popping up here all of the time that have no intention of educating, they just want to collect the voucher money and warehouse kids. Imagine the sadness of it all when a parent switches schools thinking their child was doing well because they "got all A's" and find out that they a 6 grade levels behind where they should be academically. We cannot follow the progress of those students because of laws that exempt the schools from testing and keep the public from making sure their tax dollars are not wasted. Hundreds of millions of public dollars are lost from the public schools and given to private schools with no accountability at all. They take the money from students and ask them to leave if they don't fit in. The money is not sent to the new school with the student but remains in the pockets of the voucher school. We have many phantom students in Milwaukee voucher schools that do not exist but attend school every day so that voucher school can make money. In my opinion this is taxation without representation at its worst. Choice schools are the better answer as they are public schools with higher levels of accountability and freedom from boards and state laws so that they can actually do what they need to help students rather than have their hands ties by bureaucracy.

    March 10, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
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