Weekly Address: Education for a More Competitive America & Better Future

The President:
Lost in the news of last week was a headline that ought to be a source of concern
for every American. It said, “Many Nations
Passing U.S. in Education.” Now, debates in Washington tend
to be consumed with the politics of the moment: who’s
up in the daily polls; whose party stands
to gain in November. But what matters to you —
what matters to our country — is not what happens
in the next election, but what we do to lift
up the next generation. And the fact is, there are few
issues that speak more directly to our long term success as a
nation than issues concerning the education we
provide to our children. Our prosperity in the 20th
century was fueled by an education system that helped
grow the middle class and unleash the talents of our
people more fully and widely than at any time in our history. We built schools and focused
on the teaching of math and science. We helped a generation of
veterans go to college through the GI Bill. We led the globe in
producing college graduates, and in turn we led in producing
ground-breaking technologies and scientific discoveries that
lifted living standards and set us apart as the world’s
engine of innovation. Of course, other
nations recognize this, and are looking to gain an edge
in the global marketplace by investing in better schools,
and supporting teachers, and committing to clear
standards that will produce graduates with more skills. Our competitors understand that
the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete
us tomorrow. Yet, too often we’ve failed to
make inroads in reforming and strengthening our public
education system — the debate mired in worn
arguments hurled across entrenched divides. As a result, over the last few
decades, we’ve lost ground. One assessment shows American
fifteen year olds no longer even near the top in math and science
when compared to their peers around the world. As referenced in the
news report I mentioned, we’ve now fallen behind most
wealthy countries in our high school graduation rates. And while we once led the world
in the proportion of college graduates we produced,
today we no longer do. Not only does that risk our
leadership as a nation, it consigns millions of
Americans to a lesser future. For we know that the level of
education a person attains is increasingly a prerequisite for
success and a predictor of the income that person will earn
throughout his or her life. Beyond the economic statistics
is a less tangible but no less painful reality: unless we take action — unless we step up — there are countless children who
will never realize their full talent and potential. I don’t accept that
future for them. And I don’t accept that future
for the United States of America. That’s why we’re engaged in a
historic effort to redeem and improve our public schools: to
raise the expectations for our students and for ourselves, to
recognize and reward excellence, to improve performance
in troubled schools, and to give our kids and our
country the best chance to succeed in a changing world. Under the leadership of an
outstanding Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, we launched
a Race to the Top, through which states compete for
funding by committing to reform and raising standards, by
rewarding good teaching, by supporting the development of
better assessments to measure results, and by emphasizing math
and science to help prepare children for
college and careers. And on Monday, my administration
will send to Congress our blueprint for an updated
Elementary and Secondary Education Act to overhaul
No Child Left Behind. What this plan recognizes
is that while the federal government can play a leading
role in encouraging the reforms and high standards we need, the
impetus for that change will come from states, and from local
schools and school districts. So, yes, we set a high bar — but we also provide educators the flexibility to reach it. Under these guidelines, schools
that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded,
and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change
in schools that are clearly letting their students down. For the majority of schools
that fall in between — schools that do well
but could do better — we will encourage continuous
improvement to help keep our young people on track for a
bright future: prepared for the jobs of the 21st century. And because the most important
factor in a child’s success is the person standing at the
front of the classroom, we will better prepare
teachers, support teachers, and encourage teachers
to stay in the field. In short, we’ll treat the
people who educate our sons and daughters like the
professionals they are. Through this plan we are setting
an ambitious goal: all students should graduate from high school
prepared for college and a career — no matter who you
are or where you come from. Achieving this goal
will be difficult. It’ll take time. And it will require
the skills, talents, and dedication of many:
principals, teachers, parents, and students. But this effort is essential
for our children and for our country. And while there will always be
those cynics who claim it can’t be done, at our best, we know
that America has always risen to the challenges that we’ve faced. This challenge is no different. As a nation, we are engaged
in many important endeavors: improving the economy, reforming
the health care system, encouraging innovation in energy
and other growth industries of the 21st century — all while still in the midst of two wars. But our success in
these efforts — and our success in the
future as a people — will ultimately depend on
what happens long before an entrepreneur opens his doors,
or a nurse walks the rounds, or a scientist steps
into her laboratory. Our future is determined
each and every day, when our children
enter the classroom, ready to learn and
brimming with promise. It’s that promise we
must help them fulfill. Thanks so much.

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