President Barack Obama on Tuesday laid out his vision for changes to the education system, which includes a controversial plan to hike pay for high-performing teachers and money for states that raise student standards, track student progress and cut the drop-out rate.
Much of Obamaâ€™s speech to a group of Hispanic business leaders, his first address on education since taking office, focused not on detailing federal programs but on encouraging Americans to raise standards on their own.
He called for longer school days and school years, more charter schools and a greater effort to recruit promising candidates to the teaching profession, as well as a renewed commitment from parents to support their childrenâ€™s education.
â€œIt is time to prepare every child, everywhere in America, to out-compete any worker, anywhere in the world,â€ Obama said.
â€œIt is time to give all Americans a complete and competitive education from the cradle up through a career.
â€œAmericaâ€™s entire education system must once more be the envy of the world, and thatâ€™s exactly what we intend to do,â€ he said.
Pay hikes, loan expansions proposed
The plan echoed themes of Obamaâ€™s presidential campaign.
It also built on recent remarks to a joint session of Congress, in which the president set a national goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.
The presidentâ€™s plan includes grants for states that improve early childhood education, push for uniform quality standards and improve efforts to help disadvantaged children.
It also promises to invest in innovative teacher preparation models and to support drop-out prevention programs with federal money.
It would also expand a federal program that hikes the pay for teachers based on their performance.
As outlined in the federal budget proposal he released last month, the president also promised to raise the maximum Pell Grant for college students and to index it to inflation, and also to expand the Perkins Loan Program.
Leaders of one teachersâ€™ union were heartened by Obamaâ€™s talk about education funding.
â€œWhat he showed is that, when he talks about policy, heâ€™s also going to talk about putting resources there,â€ said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association.
Teachersâ€™ unions are generally skeptical about merit-pay proposals, and Obama did not speak of merit pay in chiding Democrats who oppose the idea of â€œrewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay.â€
Van Roekel said he was not threatened by the presidentâ€™s words about teacher pay, because Obama didnâ€™t speak specifically about linking pay increases to student test scores.
He said he hoped that means Obama will be open to the tack that Education Secretary Arne Duncan took when he led the Chicago Public Schools, where teachers received additional pay for completing rigorous graduate training.
â€œWhen Secretary Duncan was in Chicago, what he focused on was not test scores, but on teachers who are national board certified,â€ said Van Roekel. â€œHe was right. It paid off. That is being paid for performance.â€
Former education secretary Lamar Alexander praised Obama for focusing on teacher pay.
â€œNothing is more important or more difficult than finding fair ways to pay the best teachers more for teaching well,â€ said Alexander, now a Republican senator from Tennessee.
While the nationâ€™s largest teachersâ€™ unions, the American Federation of Teachers, praised Obamaâ€™s vision, its president also said it was too early to fully judge it.
â€œAs with any public policy, the devil is in the details,â€ union president Randi Weingarten said, â€œand it is important that teachersâ€™ voices are heard as we implement the presidentâ€™s vision.â€
By Christi Parsons / McClatchy Tribune