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. Beth

    The GOP will never go for much needed funding and changes in education. For some reason they think education is insignificant. Thank God we have a President who is ignoring their stupidity.

    March 10, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  2. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    Republicans say President Obama is moving too fast and that's only because they believe in standing still which means they are doing nothing and that amounts to moving backwards. President Obama understands the challenges we face and our great nation doesn't have time to sit on it's hands and expect the economy, education, etc. take care of itself.

    March 10, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  3. Glennis

    Get rid of tenure and bad teachers. Get back to basics and stop the social engineering projects which have no place in schools. Bring back discipline in schools or get rid of the troublemakers. Heck, get rid of the Department of Education and that would solve most of the problems.

    March 10, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  4. @richie

    Thanks buddy! I think you just about sum up GOP bashers in this country. Thanks again for the chuckle!!

    March 10, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  5. The Last Patriot

    Private Schools > Public Schools

    Where do the Obama children go to school again?

    Privatize all schools. Give out school vouchers to all American families that pay enough for a decent education. People can choose to pay more for the top schools.

    Then all American kids can have a similar education as Sasha and Malia.

    March 10, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  6. John doe

    There should be a program on TV where selected students from different schools all accross the country compete each other in maths, science etc.. not only it will set a high standard for schools but will incite children and teachers to work harder in order to be selected to represent their school to win the competition. There will be pride in schools all accross the country.
    I can guarantee you it will be the most watched program.
    I wish i am in the show business.

    March 10, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  7. karen-Phoenix

    Thank you, thank you President Obama!!! I work as a secretary for a school district in AZ!!! We are now approaching to point of being BEHIND third world countries!! Public education, next to health care, is one of the most important sections of this country!! We are loosing an entire generation of children!

    March 10, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  8. richie

    I rather have an educated President.....Republicans good luck with sarah palin!

    March 10, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  9. Anita

    Longer hours and a longer school calendar will mean longer teacher pay, I hope. But that is not the answer. In my urban, Abbott district, it will only mean free babysitting for parents who need to spend some time with their kids. Parents should be required to make a number of visits to school and coordinate at-home activities to reinforce school curriculum. How many of my students don't have one book in their home, but have Playstation, X-Box, big screen t.v.s? Too many! It can't all be put on our shoulders. Many middle school parents are AWOL until June- never came in to p/u a report card, but want to complain that their child will not be allowed to attend the 8th grade dance because of failing grades.

    March 10, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  10. Alice Gardner

    I agree with President Obama!

    March 10, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  11. violet

    No matter what you do, the educational cream will always rise to the top. Those who can and want to learn will always do so, despite any other conditions like teacher salaries, modern schools, etc. Some of the most brilliant students I have ever had were able to learn in mud huts in Africa, where there were very few educational amenities but highly motivated and responsive students.

    March 10, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  12. Kim

    Good for you, Pres. O, and I agree with Mamosa!!!! Shorter vacations (after all, most kids aren't out of school in the summer to farm crops anymore)-and let's structure the school day to meet the hours of the workday. Why are kids going to school at 7 a.m. and getting out at 3 when the workday is mostly 8-5???

    March 10, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  13. mom in pa

    I agree with the longer school year, parental responsibility and teacher quality. Give teachers merit based pay, stop all these inservice days that most only attend half days and bring the unions back to reality. Take away the tenure protection of the dead wood, get the teachers to be responsible for their own retirement funds and stop comparing pay scales from one district to the more wealthy. In these tough times, I cannot afford to pay higher taxes to make up for their retirement losses or an 8% salary raise for 3 years when most are loosing jobs and to stay employed, I am taking a pay cut.

    March 10, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  14. Freddy

    In Houston, TX March 10th, 2009 11:27 am ET

    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

    Wrong, bucko. As a conservative, I fully support the president on this issue. I've been a proponent for education reform for years, having realized that our public education system is in dire need of an overhaul. For our K-12 schools, I hope Obama considers revamping our schools to mimic those of countries such as Germany, or other top performers in the world. For our colleges and universities, revamping some of the course structures and doing away with useless courses that have nothing to do with a student's field of study, but are required due to some special interest group's whims.

    Yet fair warning to our president. The teachers unions will be a staunch opponent to change, even though they are primarily a liberal organization.

    March 10, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  15. TCMs mom

    Please fund schools in Alabama and the deep red south.

    March 10, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. Mark, Philadelphia, PA

    To those of you liberals who are chastising the "No Child Left Behind" program, let me remind you that this program was co-sponsored by that liberal-of-liberals Senator Ted Kennedy.

    If you really want to improve the education in our schools, the first thing that needs to be done (which won't cost the government a dime) is for more parents being involved with their children's education. Parents must also fully support the schools and the teachers. Parents should turn-off/shutdown the TV, video games, Facebook, and iPods. Parents should also raise their children to respect authority.

    The next important step to improving our schools is to break the teacher unions, which reward mediocroity. Just like unions have a choke-hold on the auto industry, the unions are hampering efficiency and improvements in our schools.

    Why is the State and Federal governments continue to pour money into our schools, but get little-to-no improvement in student performance?

    March 10, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  17. still hoping

    nice to have better schools, etc. but who is going to pay for all these things he is promising. You just can't keep spending trillions of dollars it will destroy our country.

    People love you when you promise them everything, but someday they will hate you when you don't deliver or when they have to pay for it.

    Then again, you could always blame it on someone else. He's good at that.

    March 10, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  18. Llinda

    Sniffit – You must be sniffing too much if you think the Republicans are responsible for dumbing down America. The liberal Democrats have had control of education for years through the teacher unions and their political cronies. My dad had to pay dues to a teachers' union to get a job teaching in the public school and he admitted all they care about is money and promoting their agenda; to hell with the kids and their education. What a joke to blame the debacle on Republicans. I've worked in the public schools and private schools and the fact is, private schools excel because there are no teachers' unions involved. Give vouchers, let parents decide where to send their children and the whole education debacle will be cleaned up. You think Obama would dare cross the unions????

    You think CNN would dare post this?????

    March 10, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  19. gerryluimes

    Again,Pres.Obama is pointing us in the right direction.
    We are now waiting for Educator's will and input to implement a new
    start. Any time.In spite of the present state of the economy.
    One can even go as far as to claim that if the "money people" had shown the smarts needed for acceptable control practices ,we would not have been in this predicament today!

    March 10, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  20. Jon in CA

    Headline should read: OBAMA PAYS BACK TEACHERS UNIONS!!

    Presently teachers' pay is predicated on a 9-month teaching year. By extending the school year this will by default extend teacher pay.

    In California, the average teacher is making approx $60,000 (based on 9 months of work). Extend that to 12 months and pay jumps to $80,000.

    WHY....please someone tell me WHY do democrats ALWAYS think the solution is more money??? The HIGHEST per student spending in the United States is Washington DC public schools... which consequently are the WORST performing schools!!!

    We need a NEW solution that works... Vouchers. DC did a pilot program of vouchers handing out 1,000 each year. Over 9,000 families showed!! They STOPPED the program because it was too popular!!

    Obama = union tool

    March 10, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  21. Terry

    The educational system we inherited is inappropriate for this century. Children and teenagers need age-appropriate guidence and education in managing a household budget, buying a house, buying a car, maintaining good credit, evaluating political issues, voting, reading (people don't read books any more), math, verbal expression, written expression, preparing for a career, getting a job, et.

    March 10, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  22. MAD

    It will take some time for folks to understand that we now have a President who can multi-task. For years we've had areas of our government that made no improvements or progress because we had a one dementional President who could only focus on one thing at a time. I hope he keeps it up.

    March 10, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  23. Makes U Wonder

    I'm not so sure education needs to be reformed as much as the parents do. I drive a school bus at one of the largest school district here in Texas. These parents have gotten out of control allowing their children to do whatever they want. I find in most cases when the student has gotten in trouble it's never the students fault, according to the parent, it's always someone else that caused the problem. A great example of this was the story last week on CNN when the student starts to punch the bus driver because the student didn't like the way the driver was making stops. This driver was an elderly woman that was seat belted in her seat while this student punched her. The mother of this student just couldn't believe her son would do such a thing and blames it on some mental health issue. OH PLEASE! If in fact the student does have some mental heath issue that causes a student to act like these, than perhaps the student should get on meds, or at the very least not be allowed on the bus. We drive several students on these buses and one mistake can cause serious injury or worse, death.
    So, please Mr. President ,talk about the real problem first. The lack of the parent(s) teaching these students how important education is and how important it is to behave, respect, and care about another human being. If a teacher or bus driver tries to correct a student, and the parent decides to complain, the district(s) will most likely take the side of the parent all the while kissing the parents butt even when the district knows the teacher or driver is correct. Schools need to start standing behind their teachers, bus drivers, and their employees.
    As far as long school calendar, well, this is just a waste of taxpayers money if these parents don't get off their butts and do something with these children!
    Remember Mr. President, it all starts at home!

    March 10, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  24. Whitey from DC

    I believe my child should thave he same kind of education in his public school that some other lucky children get in their private schools. There is no reason why publics schools shouldn't have the same level of learning that a private schools have. If we slowly work on weeding out the things that don't work, we can implements the things that do. I am a parent of a 5 year old son, who started public school at 3 years old, I can't be sure that that head start will help him, but it couldn't hurt. I strongly believe we should early childhood education in every public school.

    March 10, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  25. Lotta Muni

    Sounds like he's ready to scrap that rotten 'No Child left Behind' program and replace it with 'No Wallet Left Behind'.
    Thanks pres.

    March 10, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
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