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Obama Makes Case for Education Reform, Defends Private School for Daughters

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In a 30-minute interview with Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" show, President Obama made the case for nationwide public education reform, defending his administration's "Race to the Top" program, addressing charter takeovers of low-performing schools, and advocating for better teacher pay and benefits. He also announced a new goal of recruiting 10,000 science and math teachers over the next two years -- fields where American schoolchildren now rank 21st and 25th in the world, respectively. But when asked by an audience member whether the president had considered sending his daughters, Malia and Sasha, to public school in the District of Columbia, the president said, "I'll be blunt with you. The answer is no right now. The D.C. public school systems are struggling." (Both daughters attend Washington's private Sidwell Friends School.)

The president went on to note that the D.C. schools had made "some important strides" in the direction of reform and said "there are some terrific schools in the system." He expressed dismay at the lottery system by which most students are admitted to higher-performing schools, but acknowledged that "given my position, if I wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha to be in, we could probably maneuver to do it," but declined to explain why he had not done so. (The president has previously cited security concerns as one of the reasons the family chose private school.)

President ObamaObama discussed the federal government's new Race to the Top program -- a $4 billion competitive grant program announced last year that rewards states that best create the conditions for education innovation and reform. Some have criticized the competitive nature of the program, which allocates funds only to the handful of winning states. The president defended the structure of the program, saying the government would continue to aid under-performing schools in low-income areas, but that Race to the Top was "the most powerful tool for reform that we've seen in decades."

The president further pushed for increased teacher pay and a "professionalization" of the industry -- wherein "master teachers" were offered more of a career ladder for professional advancement and better pay. But he also noted the important role played by parents, using his own daughters to make the point: "Malia and Sasha are great kids and great students, but if you gave them a choice, they'd be happy to sit in front of the TV all night long, every night," he said, urging parents to let children know that their "job right now is to learn."

Throughout the interview, the president stressed the connection between education reform and economic strength, advocating for young people to enter the teaching profession because "there is not a more important profession for the success of our economy in the long term." He closed by reiterating his commitment to healing the nation's economic woes, citing high unemployment and poverty rates and saying he felt the American public's frustration "acutely." Said the president: "It's the thing I wake up with and the thing I go to bed with."

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cpottger

This is the same old tune. We must do better for our children. They would rather build prisons rather than decent school. In NYC the children in most public schools have to deal with overcrowding and ethnocentricism. This has been going on for 50 years. Money earmarked for education gets spent on everything but students.

October 01 2010 at 7:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Darling

i went to a catholic grammer school in chicago.then i went to a public high school.all i can say to my parents is thank you for paying for my early years education.most,not all,public school teachers should not be teaching at all.it was a joke.we were taught manners at home and in a catholic school.i could not believe the way things were so different from one to the other.when i was in grammer school we were taught in high school it was a place to go during the day and just hang out with your friends.and now obama wants to give these so called teachers raises for basically baby sitting job is just disgusting.

September 30 2010 at 2:34 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
McSparin Family

Teachers have better benefits thana anyone - tenure, amazing retirement, healthcare, vacation, etc. Their salaries may not be what other industries pay their degreed staff, but other people work many more hours, must perform, work all summer and winter break, face losing their job on a whim, and have to fund their own retirement. Great teachers are invaluable to our kids. Lousy teachers are only important to the union. If teachers would treat our children like they are special and act as if they are glad to be there, I think you'd see an increase in the productivity of the classroom and enhanced learning. Talk to kids now and ask why they like their teachers - they'll tell you that they like the teachers who engage them, make learning interesting, actually teach instead of handing out packets, and talk to them. All careers have their good days and not so good days - stop whining, NEA.

September 30 2010 at 2:04 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
joper201

Until Union influence is eliminated most of our children will be sentenced to a life of mediocre jobs and minimum wage. The NEA and other teachers unions are no different than the Teamster's Union, United Auto Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or any of the other unions. Their sole purpose is to gain more benefits and higher wages for their members so they can continue to own the democrat party and President Obama. THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN

September 30 2010 at 1:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kenneth

The right way to reform our present schools is to go back to the course of study that was used back in the 60'snd 70's. The problem with today is many of our children ahve early development at home, daycare, and even the educational programs and toys that are sold. The schools do not expand on this and the children become bored because they are not challenged. Today's methods of teaching math, what they call English. have children graduating high school that can not even count change and the papers they right look like something a 5th grader would write back in our day.

September 29 2010 at 1:30 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kenneth's comment
pegyverbek

Kenneth -- You are so right. Pretty much all kids that I randomly test from public schools, can't make the simplest additions or multiplications even though they are 12 years old. I'm from Europe where we had to learn the tables by heart. We knew those by the age of 8 'upside down, inside out' as they say. There'd be no fooling an 8-year-old in Holland that you'd give them 40 cents for their two 25-cents-per-piece lemonades. Of course then again, a lemonade sale would be wholly illegal in little socialist Holland too. But here ... I notice, kids just get moved along. Not one current teacher has to deal with any child in particular for long. No one cares. I'm always surprised that this country is as productive and innovative as it is given the sad state of so many of its public schools.

October 01 2010 at 4:45 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
muted3

I don't think we need a longer school year. Kids and parents have precious little time together and a vacation is needed and important for all around development. The school day is too short for proper education and the lunch break should be longer too. As for charter schools some are excellent and some are not. The problem is many times that the need is greater in poverty stricken areas and those students face a multitude of difficulties to overcome. More money should be given to those areas. One big concession that needs to be made is that teachers who recieve many complaints and are clearly not performing should be fired without the big price tag it takes to get rid of them.

September 28 2010 at 7:15 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
doughtya49

And to think, we have a Dept. of Education that we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars through it to improve our education and like most programs favored by liberals, it is a failed program. Maybe it would be best to re-evaluate the DOE's mission, limit it's scope, reduce the staff and send moist of the saving back to the states so they can spend it on education as they see fit. After all, it is the citizens money.

September 28 2010 at 6:40 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
sfamilyent

I find it interesting to note that the more involved the federal government becomes, the further our K-12 public education system declines. In my opinion, the No Child Left Behind act accelerated the decline in the quality of education in my area by funneling money away from the traditional public schools and into the hands of private management companies via charter schools where the education is no better. I'm glad that my kids finished school already, but I worry about the prospects for my grandchildren.

September 28 2010 at 2:26 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
vobox3343

It used to be that you either went to school to be educated or you left, entered the military or took up a job - any job. It was the only way you were going to make it. Parents back in the day didn't just let you sit up and do nothing. You didn't work, you didn't eat. The incentives for getting a good education have been removed. Not feeling good about yourselves? You can have plenty of sex, have a child, get all of the benefits hard-working individuals don't get, including affordable, albeit lousy gang infested, but not in all cases, housing. And if you're a lazy young man feeling imprisioned by the card you've been dealt in life, you can engage in criminal activity where being imprisoned by man is not such a big deal. You still get a place to lay your head and the same free food you've always depended on. When you've never had to be responsible for anything, your drive to achieve is severely limited. You know not how to do that which you've never attempted. Sometings wrong with the way we've been thinking. And that's it, isn't it? We're not raising kids to think or find solutions to their own particular problems/issues. So, we have large numbers of Americans just waiting for the how, when and where of everything, never growing and improving on their own. And, as you can see by many of these postings, our kids aren't the only ones waiting to be told how they should think.

September 28 2010 at 12:17 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply
vobox3343

If we're talking about education again, I guess that means that the "No Child Left Behind" proposed by Bush was a failure also?

September 28 2010 at 11:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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