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. Had It

    I hope he continues to keep all of his cabinet chiefs busy. One project at a time – make them ALL earn their money or get a replacement that will.

    Not like others that have spent years concentrating on just one thing and letting all else slide.

    March 10, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  2. DonnieJ

    Did you mean to say "flesh out the details," or are you trying to imply that his plan is crap?

    March 10, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  3. Mac - Florida

    Too bad there won't be the kind of changes that are REALLY needed; like starting from scratch with a whole new system. Our educational system is so broken and inadequate, it would be hard to know where to start fixing it.

    March 10, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  4. Johnny Reb

    What does it mean that "Obama makes a call?" Behold his mighty hand!!!

    March 10, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  5. Dawn

    And in all of this... are parents going to ALSO be held accountable? (ie attendance among other things?) Does Mr. President realize that sometimes students drop out because they have to get jobs to help support their family? BUT that drop out counts against schools for AYP? Neither of those situations is fair. Yes, I was moved when Mr. President gave his speech that dropping out is quitting on our country but how many of these young people, in this awful economic time, are thinking, "Why should I care? What has my country done for me? My parents lost their jobs. We lost our homes. My parent is fighting in Iran or Afghanistan...." etc, etc., etc. The concept is admirable, but we have to get the pride of our country back for our young people, our at-risk people before we can tell them they are quitting on our country. And we have GOT to hold the parents of these at-risk children (of ALL children) accountable as well.

    March 10, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  6. Sniffit

    Tough pill for the GOP to swallow. They've been trying to dumb down America for ages because it's the only way they can maintain a majority of the votes hehe 🙂

    March 10, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  7. frank

    Keep cruising......The naysayers will only grow louder!

    March 10, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  8. Anthony

    Thank you, Mr. President. I can only recall a former president who asked, "Is our children learning?" What a great change. Again, thank you, Sir.

    March 10, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  9. WatchfulCowboy

    I am all for education – make sure we smart up and don't dumb down so everyone feels good about themselves. Without a challenge there is no education – just meaningless tests. You teach the youth and the tests will take care of themselves.

    Also will be interesting to see if this posts – most of what I say CNN doesn't see as meaningful I suppose.

    March 10, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  10. In Houston, TX

    I know conservatives are like.."why do we need education reform?"
    As far as federal education programs go, this is the worst one ever concieved. If there was ever an education policy that took the focus off of education and gave incentives for 'dishonest administrative practices' ,by gosh, this is it!
    And again, The President is doing exactly what I wanted him to do. Things like this is why I and millions of others voted for him.

    The Grand obstruction Party and conservatives do your worst.
    Our spirit is strong. You will not break us. You can't outlast us and we will defeat you...for the good of the country

    March 10, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  11. gg

    wow, for the first time I am proud of my country.If this is what is making republican talking points to be he is doing so much, keep it coming republicans. You have nothing to offer!

    March 10, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  12. Richie

    America wanna remain the nation of illitrates. Atleast republicans want it that way so that they can keep lying to American people......

    March 10, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  13. Sniffit

    I sure hope he fixes his attention on college and grad school tuition rates and the federal loan programs that go with it. College and grad school are no longer the path to advancement...they're the yellow brick road to indentured servitude. You can deduct mortgage interest from your income on your tax returns, but after taking out a what basically amounts to a mortgage on your education, they cut you off from deducting that interest at an obscenely low income level relative to proportion of your income devoted to the loan payments. Get a college education, but don't bother with grad school. It's no longer "aim high"'s "aim so-so."

    March 10, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  14. ANGIE-OH

    That's right parents, turn off the tv's, video games and pc's. Do what you chose to do. Be parents.

    March 10, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  15. mamosa

    Yes! I am an educator who agrees with most of this. Let's extend the school year but have two shorter breaks per year. We must invest in our children. End unproductive testing. Teach creativity and problem solving. Make education student centered. Create campuses to meet student needs. America's education system has failed. We need to resurrect it!

    March 10, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  16. obama-mama

    If you don't have an educate you have nothing. You may also have nothing with an education in this failing economy

    March 10, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  17. abc

    though i'm still years away from being a parent but yes, the children are more enriched by materials than education. this is not how we can stay competitive and be a great leader. education intertwines with national security, nope, it's not all about building cold, metal weapons but intellectually keeping our country safe with progress and stability.

    i believe the parents definitely need to step up their game and not place responsibility solely on the school. sure, there are plenty of loop holes and inadequacies with our education system but upbringing starts at home! of course parenting is a whole social issue itself... good luck with education reform, it's a battle we cannot afford to loose.

    March 10, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  18. Nana68

    Good for the president!! We can't have a strong country without strong education ethics.
    The "No child left behind law" it horrific, no teachers like it and a lot of parents hate it. This one reason our children are not learning and I also believe parents need to be held accountable to see that their children are doing what they are suppose to do.

    March 10, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  19. Concerned in MA

    Start with doing something to the teacher's union. They're the ones who reward mediocrity and sub-par performance.

    March 10, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  20. jcow

    Just for the record – "No child left behind" was a bi-partisan effort (Kennedy of MA was a sponsor of the bill). That being said I do not think it was a bad bill at all – we need to hold teachers, administrators, parents, and students to a higher standard. Those who say just teach and the test will take care of themselves let me ask you this. I teach French but what if the test is in Spanish. I maybe the best French teacher in the world but my students will still fail. We must teach our children to a common high standard, to do otherwise would be unfair to those who teachers (or schools) have lower expectations. How do we know that our students are reaching that standard, are learning what they need to know? We test them on it. Seems like a simple concept but one that so many fail to grasp.

    March 10, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  21. DDRM

    I agree the education system in this country is weak compared to other countries and our children know less. However, I support school choice (especially in inner cities). I believe, as taxpayers, we should have a say what to do with our school tax money – either public school, private, or faith-based. Where was it written that our students should be forced to go to a government run school? No – where. That said, if more families were given a choice, the public school system wouldn't be so overburdened and every child would have to luxury of learning in an environment that is best for them!

    March 10, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  22. Angie in Pa

    So great to Have a President that can Multi-Task I know your all use to W And him Being MIA For 8 Years yes this Change can Be overwhelming but like one Poster said NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND SUCKS!

    March 10, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  23. the idiot

    Half of my local taxes, half of my state taxes and a large portion of my federal taxes go for education. Until everyone involved is held accountable, there will be no progress. This program like so many other is just a liberal payback to the teachers unions for electing democrats.

    March 10, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  24. Maggie from Virginia

    The GOP is now finding it very difficult to pull the wool over the public’s eyes; which is also the reason they are against the government's involvement in education. It amazes me that republican sheep equate education with elitism.

    March 10, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  25. katiec

    The education system also needs to be held accountable on their spending. The administrators, especially in universities, receive outrageous salaries and perks. Their budgets need to be studied
    line by line, eliminating waste and unjustied salaries.
    Also, publishers providing books need to be brought into focus.
    They change a few words in the books and the students are then
    required to purchase new books as the previous are considered
    obsolete. They have a rip off going and our students are paying the
    Grants need to be monitored and brought into line. And, who are
    these grants going to? If you check into this think you will be
    surprised. The education system, like everyone else, needs to
    be held credible.

    March 10, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
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