Excerpts from Remarks of President Barack Obama
National Urban League Centennial
July 29, 2010
Now, I know some argue that during a recession, we should focus solely on economic issues. But education is an economic issue - if not the economic issue of our time. It's an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who've never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have. It's an economic issue when eight in ten new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of this decade. It's an economic issue when we know countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.
... But I know there's also been some controversy about the initiative [Race to the Top]. Part of it, I believe, reflects a general resistance to change; a comfort with the status quo. But there have also been criticisms, including from some folks in the civil rights community, about particular elements of Race to the Top. And I'd like to address some of those today.
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 doctors go through. I want to give them career ladders so they have opportunities to advance, and earn real financial security. I want them to have a fulfilling and supportive workplace environment, and the resources - from basic supplies to reasonable class sizes - to help them succeed. 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 shape our children's future.
All I'm asking in return - as a president, and as a parent - is a measure of accountability. Surely we can agree that even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we need to make sure they're delivering results in the classroom. If they're not, let's work with them to help them be more effective. And if that fails, let's find the right teacher for that classroom. As Arne says, our kids get only one chance at an education, and we need to get it right.
So, for anyone who wants to use Race to the Top to blame or punish teachers - you're missing the point. Our goal isn't to fire or admonish teachers. Our goal is accountability. It's to provide teachers with the support they need to be as effective as they can be. It's to create a better environment for teachers and students alike.
Still, sometimes a school's problems run so deep that better assessments, higher standards, and a more challenging curriculum aren't enough. If a school isn't producing graduates with even the most basic skills - year after year after year - something needs to be done differently. If we want success for our country, we can't accept failure in our schools.
That's why we're challenging states to turn around our 5,000 worst schools - so many of which are in minority communities. And we're investing over $4 billion to help them do it - as much as we're investing in Race to the Top. Unlike No Child Left Behind, this isn't about labeling a troubled school a failure one day, and throwing up our hands the next. It's about investing in that school's future, recruiting the whole community to help turn it around, and identifying some viable options for how to move forward.
I know life is tough for a lot of young people in this country, especially in some of the places the Urban League is making such a difference. At certain points in our lives, young black men and women may feel the sting of discrimination. They may feel trapped in a community where drugs, violence, and unemployment are pervasive, where they are forced to wrestle with things no child should have to face. There are all kinds of reasons for our children to say, "No, I can't." But it's our job to say to them, "Yes, you can." Yes, you can overcome. Yes, you can persevere. Yes, you can make of your lives what you will.
I know they can, because I know the character of America's young people - young men and women who volunteered on my campaign; who ask me questions in town halls; who write me letters about their trials and aspirations.