Obama: Education Must Be Our 'National Mission'
President discusses Race to the Top, national commitment to education in Wisconsin address
By Kevin Hart
Wednesday, November 4, 2009 -- Providing a quality public education for all students requires educators, students, parents and elected officials to work as partners in advancing key reforms. That was the message delivered by President Barack Obama today in an education policy address delivered at Wright Middle School, a unionized charter school in Madison, Wisconsin.
“It’s time to stop just talking about education reform and start actually doing it,” Obama said. “It’s time to make education America’s national mission.”
Obama talked about how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which received strong support from NEA, helped create or save 4,000 education jobs in Wisconsin alone, and more than 1 million jobs nationwide. Investing in education is critical, Obama said, because American students must be able to compete in the global economy, and jobs increasingly require a college degree and other forms of advanced education and training.
The president told attendees that the Administration’s Race to the Top program would be a critical tool in helping states fund the education reforms and improvements necessary to boost student achievement. Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion federal grant program where states will compete for money that can be used to fund innovation.
“We’re putting over $4 billion on the table – one of the largest investments America has ever made in education reform,” Obama said. “But we’re not just handing it out to states that want it.”
To compete for Race to the Top funds, Obama pointed out, states will need to meet a series of criteria, including:
- Setting higher standards and creating better assessments
- Committing to placing effective teachers and principals in schools
- Tracking the progress of students and teachers to ensure all high school graduates are ready for college and a career
- Focusing on transforming low-performing schools
“Lifting up American education is not a task for government alone,” Obama said. “It will take parents getting more involved in their child’s education and schools doing more to reach out to our parents. It will take students accepting more responsibility for their own education. And it will take teachers unions, parents, and elected leaders working together as partners in a common effort. It will take each and every one of us doing our part on behalf of our kids, our country, and the future we share.”
NEA and its state affiliates have shown their commitment to partnering with students, parents and legislators to improve student learning. Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, an NEA affiliate, was invited to attend Obama’s address.
Bell and WEAC have helped support a bill currently under consideration by the Wisconsin legislature that would allow student scores on state tests to be one – but not the sole – factor in a comprehensive evaluation system for teachers. Those evaluation systems can be designed with teacher input during the collective bargaining process.
The WEAC-supported legislation is designed to make Wisconsin more competitive for Race to the Top funds.
“President Barack Obama’s visit to Madison today put a spotlight on public education, and reinforced that it takes collaboration to make our schools the best they can be for the future of our students, communities, state and nation," Bell said. “Wisconsin’s teachers and education support professionals look forward to continuing our partnership in advancing education reforms that will advance public education and honor Wisconsin’s proud tradition of public education.”