On Thursday, July 29th, at the National Urban League Centennial Conference in Washington, DC, President Obama delivered a major education reform speech emphasizing how his signature Race to the Top program and other initiatives are driving education reform across the country and focusing the nation on the goal of preparing students for college and careers.
The president made a promise to the National Urban League that if he became President he would deliver an address at the organizations Centennial Conference.
The President highlighted the unprecedented support for and adoption of common standards by a majority of states already, and the Administration’s commitment to develop the next generation of high-quality assessments bench marked to common standards.
"Instead of Washington imposing standards from the top down, let’s challenge states to adopt common standards voluntarily, from the bottom up. That doesn’t mean more standards; it means higher standards, better standards, standards that clarify what our teachers are expected to teach and what our children are expected to learn -– so high school graduates are actually prepared for college and a career. I do not want to see young people get a diploma but they can’t read that diploma", said President Obama.
The President's speech focused on the dramatic reforms that states, school districts, schools and teachers unions have undertaken over the past 18 months, including steps to improve teacher effectiveness and transform persistently low-performing schools.
"So I want teachers to have higher salaries. I want them to have more support. I want them to be trained like the professionals they are –- with rigorous residencies like the ones that doctors go through. I want to give them a career ladder so they’ve opportunities to advance, and earn real financial security. I don't want talented young people to say I’d love to teach but I can’t afford it.
The president went on to say on the issue of teachers that he wants teachers to "have a fulfilling and supportive workplace environment."
"I want them to have the resources. From basic supplies to reasonable class sizes that help them succeed. And instead of a culture where we’re always idolizing sports stars or celebrities, I want us to build a culture where we idolize the people who are shaping our children’s future. I want some teachers on the covers of some of those magazines. Some teachers on MTV, featured."
The president said he is "110 percent behind teachers", but stated "if we’re not seeing results in the classroom, then let’s work with teachers to help them become more effective. If that doesn’t work, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom."
Seated near the stage was D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee, who just last week fired another round of school teachers - totaling over 400 - for what she says is an issue of under performance. Rhee has been critical of teachers she deems as not working hard enough to ensure students have higher standardized test scores. The Washington Teacher's Union plans to contest the firings.
With many students struggling in the classroom, and having to deal with issues like teacher retention, President Obama admonished students that "an education is not something you just tip your head and they pout it in your ear. You've got to want it. You've got to reach out and claim that future for yourself. And you can't make excuses."
Many young people and students we talked to called the president's remarks, "encouraging."