Friday, September 12, 2008

Obama's bold education speech

Obama gave a speech earlier this week in which he compellingly laid out the crisis in our public schools and, critically, was the most specific and the most bold he's been to date about what he would do about it as President.  He really pushed the reform agenda much further than he has in the past, which is REALLY, REALLY important.  If he becomes President, I suspect we'll look back on this speech as a critical moment, when he decided to embrace the genuine reform agenda.
Sadly, this speech hasn't generated much interest -- I don't know which is more pathetic: that the McCain campaign, rather than engaging in this debate, has instead chosen to spend the week telling lies about lipstick on pigs and Obama wanting to teach sex to kindergartners, or the media basically ignoring this story?
With less than two months left in the campaign, those of us who are passionate about education reform and who want to see Obama elected, now is the time to step up.  With a few other folks, I'm working on some sort of Education Reformers for Obama fundraising effort -- I'll soon send out details soon.
Here are key excerpts from the speech, in which he first outlines the crisis and the need for new thinking:

If we want to build a 21st century infrastructure and repair our crumbling roads and bridges, we can’t afford a future where a third of all 4th graders and a fifth of all 8th graders can’t do basic math, and black and Latino students are even further behind; where elementary school kids are only getting an average 25 minutes of science each day when over 80% of the fastest-growing jobs require some knowledge in math and science.

If we want to see middle class incomes rising like they did in the 1990’s, we can’t afford a future where so many Americans are priced out of college; where only 20 percent of our students are prepared to take college-level English, math, and science; where millions of jobs are going unfilled because Americans don’t have the skills to work them; and where barely one in ten low-income students will ever get their college degree.

That kind of future is economically untenable for America. It is morally unacceptable for our children. And it is not who we are as a nation.

We are a nation that has always renewed our system of education to meet the challenges of a new time. Lincoln created the land grant colleges to ensure the success of the union he was fighting to save. Generations of leaders built mandatory public schools to prepare our children for the changing needs of our nation. And Eisenhower doubled federal investment in education after the Soviets beat us to space.

That is the kind of leadership we must show today.

But that’s not the leadership we’ve been getting from Washington. For decades, they’ve been stuck in the same tired debates over education that have crippled our progress and left schools and parents to fend for themselves. It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There’s partisanship and there’s bickering, but there’s no understanding that both sides have good ideas that we’ll need to implement if we hope to make the changes our children need. And we’ve fallen further and further behind as a result.

If we’re going to make a real and lasting difference for our future, we have to be willing to move beyond the old arguments of left and right and take meaningful, practical steps to build an education system worthy of our children and our future.

After covering investing more in early childhood education programs, fixing and fully funding NCLB (with a little bashing of tests, but mainly (and correctly) calling for betters tests/evaluation systems), and a nice plug for more Advanced Placement courses for high school students (what we're trying to do with REACH), he highlights a school that, while not officially a charter, sounds exactly like one:
The second thing we need to do is make sure that we’re preparing our kids for the 21st century economy by bringing our school system into the 21st century. Part of what that means is fostering the kinds of schools that will help prepare our kids, which is why I’m calling for the creation of an Innovative Schools Fund. This fund will invest in schools like the Austin Polytechnical Academy, which is located in a part of Chicago that’s been hard hit by the decline in manufacturing over the past few decades. Thanks to partnerships with a number of companies, a curriculum that prepares students for a career in engineering, and a requirement that students graduate with at least two industry certifications, Austin Polytech is bringing hope back to the community. And that’s the kind of model we’ll replicate across the country when I’m President of the United States.
Obama then gives his strongest plug ever for charter schools, including (though it's not in the text of the speech) proposing a doubling of federal support for charters from $200 million annually to $400 million:
Giving our parents real choices about where to send their kids to school also means showing the same kind of leadership at the national level that I did in Illinois when I passed a law to double the number of charter schools in Chicago. That is why as President, I’ll double the funding for responsible charter schools. Now, I know you’ve had a tough time with for-profit charter schools here in Ohio. That is why I’ll work with Governor Strickland to hold for-profit charter schools accountable, and I’ll work with all our nation’s governors to hold all our charter schools accountable. Charter schools that are successful will get the support they need to grow. And charters that aren’t will get shut down.
He also calls for attracting, training and supporting talented new teachers, rewarding the best teachers with performance-based pay and -- this is key new language -- removing lousy teachers:

That’s why last year, I proposed a new Service Scholarship program that will recruit top talent into the profession, and place these new teachers in overcrowded districts and struggling rural towns, or hard-to-staff subjects like special education in schools across the nation. To prepare these new teachers, I’ll create more Teacher Residency Programs that will build on a law I recently passed and train 30,000 high-quality teachers a year, especially in math and science. To support our teachers, we’ll expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits.

And when our teachers succeed in making a real difference in our children’s lives, we should reward them for it by finding new ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. We can do this. From Prince George’s County in Maryland to Denver, Colorado, we’re seeing teachers and school boards coming together to design performance pay plans.

So yes, we must give teachers every tool they need to be successful. But we also need to give every child the assurance that they’ll have the teacher they need to be successful. That means setting a firm standard teachers who are doing a poor job will get extra support, but if they still don’t improve, they’ll be replaced. Because as good teachers are the first to tell you, if we’re going to attract the best teachers to the profession, we can’t settle for schools filled with poor teachers.


Remarks of Senator Barack Obamaas prepared for delivery A 21st Century Education Tuesday, September 9, 2008 Dayton, Ohio

Yesterday was a special day around my house. It was back-to-school day for my girls. Sasha started second grade and Malia began 5th. I know Malia was really embarrassed when I walked her to the classroom, but I did it anyway because she’s still Daddy’s girl. And seeing them back at school was a reminder not only that another year had passed and that they’re growing up a little faster than I’d sometimes like. It was also a reminder of all the other parents who are dropping their children off at school, and all the other kids who are getting ready for another year of classes...


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