[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/10/art.obama3.gi.jpg 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.
"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.