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. Misery Missouri

    Never let a good crisis go to waste, right Mr. President. Its time to quit pushing your agenda as part of essential economic policy to save the economy. Now that congress is pushing back you are engaging your twits to spam America to strong arm support. Don't waste what clout you have, you just may need it after the first six months and fewer people will be listening. Rmember the boy who cried wolf...

    March 10, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  2. 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 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  3. Voice of A Moderate Republican

    We live in such a polarized nation that no inniative will get universal support. However, our PRESIDENT is smart and IS addressing fundamental tenets that contribute to the well being of people, our economy, our values and our nation.

    In a global economy, if Americans are the best educated people, they can have the highest standard of living. Jobs in emerging industries, which will pay more as compared to jobs in declining industries, can be best performed by Americans. This forms the foundation for the least amount of poverty overall, the ability of families to own their property, be able to pay for adequate health care, build savings and lay a foundation for the next generation to build upon.

    The problem for the Republican Party is that most Americans question if they are committed to doing what is necessary to achieve the paragraph above. They call this socialism, bleeding heart liberalism, etc. I call it strenghtening our weakest so that they are stronger than the rest of the global citizentry.

    Anyone that loves America should imagine how strong, safe, pleasant it would be to live in this country if we eliminated systemic hurdles that prevent people from achieving this full potential. Subpar education is one of those hurdles.

    Now there are rich-white-folks living in gated communities that believe America is a pleasant place to live. But there are also poor-white-folks who know that it is not. Only when the priveledged cease to elevate their self esteem by standing on the backs of the unpriveledged will we be a civil nation. Denying educational advancement is one means of standing on the backs of others.

    Let's truly practice America 1st.

    March 10, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  4. Virginia Turns Blue!!

    No one will suffer more than us, if our kids are not educated properly.

    There is no excuse. America is the most giving powerful, nation on Earth, our kids need to be able to continue that.

    Home school, private, public...who cares, its for the kids!

    Good move Mr. President, finally someone is listening!

    March 10, 2009 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  5. Carl W Smelcer

    Mr. Prez, Good luck with education problem. I'm military retired and
    spent several tour of duty in both Germany and Japan. Before you make any drastic changes, It would help to send a representive to
    both Germany and Japan. Thats why Germany was the world leaders
    in Nucular knowledge. Both the the US and Russia got as many as
    they did after WW 2. Their educational programs are above reproach

    March 10, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  6. Typical White Person

    NatGeo had a story on the other night about a NOLA high school. They followed several students the entire year. Half dropped out, but the most amazing story (IMHO) was the story of a basketball player who didn't.

    He was failing Algebra and was taken out of the cl@ss for threatening the teacher. About 2 months before graduation his coach got a friend at one of the community colleges to set this kid up with a full ride scholarship to play basketball – EVERYTHING would be paid for including room and board, books, fees, everything – BUT he had to graduate and that meant he had to p@ss Algebra.

    According to the math teacher, the same one he had threatened, the kid did "remarkably well" on the cumulative final (meaning it covered the entire year's work). The kid crammed an entire year's worth of learning into the last couple of months, he p@ssed and graduated.

    Now, nothing at the school changed. The same building, same text book, same teacher, same everything. The only thing that changed was the kid suddenly decided to buckle down and do the work.

    A conservative will tell you that his parents are the problem because they failed by not doing a better job of instilling respect and desire for education.

    A liberal will tell you the schools are the problem because they are not providing a free-ride in college to encourage these kids to finish school.

    Which change would actually fix the root cause of the problem? And which will Obama try and implement?

    March 10, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  7. Byrd

    I completly agree that education isimportant...the funny thing is you have students like from India come here to get an education then go back to their homes..why?because most American companies outsource there(thnks Dell)or they out source their call centers there.......The rich and wealthy here even go to places like India to get expensive surgery done cheaper(stupid repubs)I think we have enough of C average students running our cournty

    March 10, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  8. ree

    Remember alot of Democrates were for the no child left behind. Remember Democrates were in control for two years and just set there. I am neither a Dem or Rep. I vote for who I think is best for the job.

    I have always been proud of my country not just now that Obama is in office. Yes, he is doing some good but is he willing to go all the way on this. Is he willing to go against the teachers union who helped put him in office. Is he willing to end tenue for teachers so we can weed out the ones not doing there job. If you want to over haul education, you must start with the teachers. They have our children for six or more hours a day.

    parents must be there for theirchildren while teaching them respect and right from wrong. Parents can not leave everything to the teachers.

    We must all work together on this.

    March 10, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  9. LIP

    George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind was a great start and a good place for Obama to begin the process again. We had a Department of Education much like the UAW that was focused on taking care of its own and Bush held their feet to the fire and started making teachers accountable and gave them fair warning that if they didn't improve both themselves and the students, that they would be gone and replaced by teachers that excelled and not continue on with teachers that simply collected their pay and benefits.
    It is good that the Democrats are continuing to carry the ball forward.

    March 10, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  10. Intelligentia

    If you want to fix our educational system, start with eliminating standard tests that have nothing to do with true intelligence. Parents and students expend unimaginable and unwarranted time and resources trying to trick the system. If can just program your child and yourself to learn how to be an expert test-taker, you can get into any of the so-called Ivy leagues. Once in, the true colors emerge. After they graduate, they occupy high positions based solely on the school they attended instead of what they actually know. Since they faked their way through the system through testing, they did not learn critical think or thinking outside of the box. Whatever, position they occupy, the same fakery is used to feign intelligence until they can no longer fake it, and viola: Stuck market crash, bankruptcies of major corporations. We learn that all these so-called Ivy league alleged intellectual giants are nothing but fakes.

    March 10, 2009 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  11. phoenix86

    Those of you here are so quick to begin blasting the GOP for opposing this even though

    1) The focus on improving a childs education began with George W. Bush and;

    2) No republican has ever stated that they want to reduce the emphasis on education.

    You guys need to get a grip and start paying attention. You really can't afford to spend the rest of your life as an idiot.

    March 10, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  12. Steve (the real one)

    Sniffit March 10th, 2009 11:25 am ET
    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
    Really??? Well snuffit, you seem to forget the NEA is a bastion of liberalism! If anyone one has dumbed down anyone it would be your side to maintain voters. When you give handouts folks no allow have to do for themselves and the government thinks for them as well. This is the status quo for the democrats. God forbid sombody attempts to do or think for themselves. Then its Uncle Tom this or token that or hater this and hater that! Get real and open your eyes!
    hehe nothing!

    March 10, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  13. LB

    Change is needed but the wrong change wont cut it. The last way to cut college expense is to increase the pell grant. I was a recipient of the pell grant who payed my own way through college and the biggest problem in american universities is the lack of accountability in the students themselves. Increasing the pell grant will cost our govt a lot of money and in a lot of cases will go to students who will waste their oppurtunity. Students should have to earn their way through college so they can learn what the real world is like. We are quickly forgetting what made the greatest generation of americans so great; their willingness to sacrifice and their hard work. Now everyone wants things easy and handed to them on a silver platter and that will be the reason we will no longer be a superpower in the future.

    March 10, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  14. Homeschooling

    I homeschool my children. I just hope that Obama doesn't touch it. My daughter just got her ACT score back and made a 26 on it. That is great considering the public school considered her a slow learner. My son does have learning disabilities. The public school said that he was normal. We had both of them tested and it was the other way around. The public schools here are bad over ran with drugs and gangs. That is not a place I want my child attending. The private school is all about how much sex and beer you can get. I don't consider myself a Dem or a Gop I vote for the person and what they stand for. I am a Christian and that plays a big part in my way of life. My husband is a public school teacher. The stories that he tell me will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. He teaches 6th-8th grade.

    March 10, 2009 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  15. Jackie in Dallas

    Most schools in other countries go year around - maybe just one of the reasons that they are turning out better educated children. The summer break made sense when we were a rural society where children were needed to help bring in crops, etc., but it no longer makes sense these days. When I hit college, I went straight through, summers and all, and graduated in 3 years. I found that the breaks between semesters and long holiday weekends were enough "break" from studying.

    Of course, teachers need to be encouraged to actually teach - and be paid appropriately for it. Most of the time, according to the two that are friends of mine, they are no more than basically warehousing the kids for a certain number of hours of the day. There is no discipline, and parents don't even care enough to come meet the teachers. Of course, some parents are now working two or three jobs each just to keep roofs over their head and food on the table.

    Maybe the austerity of the next few years will mean a cutback on all those meaningless activities, and let the kids get out and have unstructured play in the parks. It would be nice to see parents working with their kids to improve their skills. More family time, and more emphasis on reading, and family time, than time on Facebook, video games, and roaming the malls.

    March 10, 2009 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  16. LB

    By the way the party of Unions (Dems) have been the biggest obstacle to education reform in our country. As an independent its sickening to see everyone trying to blame every problem on the Republicans. Many are their faults but the Dems cause plenty of problems too.

    March 10, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  17. Patriot

    Wow, what original ideas!!!! Oh, wait a minute, these were already implemented in a thing called "No Child Left Behind". For Obama's recycled policies to work , school districts and teachers will have to stop resisting them. Our children aren't falling behind because their government has failed them, it's because their teachers and schools have failed them. The changes called for by NCLB were radical but completely attainable. It's failure was not in concept, but in the schools' inability and (in most cases) outright refusal to make the needed reforms. I don't think Obama will have any better success than Bush did at trying to get that 10-ton elephant to move.

    March 10, 2009 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  18. Steve (the real one)

    News Flash Democrats! Google No Child Left Behind! Guess who help write this? Two democrats and one being Ted Kennedy! Crap indeed!!! Bush caught a lot of flak by being bi-partisan in this effort! Hey Liberals!! The true hurts doesn't it???

    March 10, 2009 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  19. Chris

    As a college student hoping to go into the field of teaching, regardless of my political leanings I am supportive of a good, strong effort to improve our education system. Many of the things in this article I think are great, make testing either useful of find another resource, and make teachers and parents responsible for students, instead of just blaming an antiquated system. However, the thing no one brings up is: how would a "year round" school type change affect summer enrichment programs? I know in the state I am from, every summer for six weeks, students are brought to a state university to live those six weeks in an intensive study program for those highly achieving in academic fields. A few four week breaks sound great, until you realize that a broad, sweeping, and surely sudden change would kill any of these summer betterment initiatives.

    March 10, 2009 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  20. Greg

    I actually agree with Obama on this. The GOP has tried for years to pay teachers acording to their success. They could never get it done because of the support of the unions to the Dem party. Now all of a sudden this is a great new idea! I only hope that Obama can get this past the House. Children need to be challanged, if they are bored really bright students get into trouble. We have chosen in the past to set the pace to the slowest student. This has been a horible mistake. So President Obama if the we raise standards can we please take race out of the equation? Asian kids tend to do better because of what is expected of them at home. Kids from higher income families tend to do well, again because of expectations. Private schools have been the choice of wealthier families because of expectations. The question is in my mind how do you change expectations? Do we sacrifce the bright student for the one that really doesnt care? Who will make that decision? The government? In other countries they choose, the decision is made early on how far you will go. Not everyone is promised a extended education. By the time they reach middle school the choice is made are we ready to make that choice?

    March 10, 2009 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  21. Homeschooling

    I homeschool my kids. I refuse to send them to a public school where they are over ran with gangs and drugs. The private schools are just as bad except they play this game of how many times can you have sex and get drunk. Most of the time its at the house where the parents are there. They know what is going on and they just look at it as being a teenager.
    I have read that Obama is not homeschool friendly. I just hope that he leaves us alone and let us teach our children the way we see fit.

    March 10, 2009 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  22. ray ray

    WHY is everyone complaining????

    This is what you get when GOVERNMENT runs the schools (public education) and it will NOT change regardless how much money is dumped into the system!!

    Most of Americans are too blind or too dumb to see the OBVIOUS solution. THINK PEOPLE!!!

    Where do the children of Congressmen, Obama – go to school??

    The "Lion" of the Senate who wore the EDUCATION MANTEL – sent his kids to...... P-R-I-V-A-T-E schools!!

    Until we break the cycle relying on Government education policy – our children will continue paying the price.


    March 10, 2009 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  23. Trang

    Yes, President Obama, the school sure needs reform. I must say, the high school and those before that are substandard compared to other countries. I know when I first came to this country, I feel sorry for the young people here because they are not getting a good education. You have to give them a good start – from kindergarden and on up.

    March 10, 2009 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  24. Opinionated

    I don't expect a physician to repair my car. Why do parents expect teachers and the school systems to repair their children? The educational system has improved over the course of the last four decades. Teachers are more knowledgeable and have achieved higher levels of education. Data on student performance and is collected and analyzed. The high school curricula in most school systems are structured to prepare kids for grad school!

    The American family structure has eroded, NOT the educational system (do some research). You can design the most intuitive and intellectually stimulating lesson in the history of man, but if your child won't sit down and shut up it won't be effective.

    1. Stop blaming the school systems and teachers for parental

    2. Raise your children properly (or at least teach them how to respect
    authority and follow instructions)

    3. Visit your local high school and offer to volunteer. Try walking
    through a high school hallway during transition time and monitor
    the youth (I bet you won't even recognize them).

    4. See #1

    March 10, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  25. Rainydaygirl

    As a long-time public educator who has seen a lot in our public schools-I have to remind people that when you compare education in Europe and Asia that there is a difference between their system and ours. For one thing, it is 'tiered'. Our schools are inclusive. All ablities and levels are included. As a long-time sixth grade teacher, I have had students who read at first grade levels to students reading college-level material. I have had students with limited English language backgrounds. I have had students with behavior issues and special needs. All I am asking is take a look and compare apples to oranges in terms of our public schools and the schools internationally. There are big differences.

    March 10, 2009 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
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