Obama pitches education ideas in Boston

March 8, 2011

President Obama continued his new push for education reform in a speech here Tuesday, the second in a series of education events the White House is planning over the next month.

Standing in front of the blue “Winning the Future” banner that now appears at almost all of his events, Obama called for increased funding for education, arguing the United States needs a better-educated workforce to ensure it remains economically competitive.

In his appearance at a gym at TechBoston Academy, an innovative school for students in grades 6 to 12, he specifically proposed a competitive grant program that would reward money to companies that have the best ideas for using computer software and other technologies in education.

Defending his goal to increase education spending as many in Washington focus on the budget deficit, Obama said, “There’s nothing responsible about cutting back on investments in these young people.”

The Obama administration is pushing for a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law by the end of the year, as well as increased funding for education in the 2012 federal budget. It’s unclear if either goal will be accomplished; Republicans in Congress are trying to cut funding in education and other programs for the rest of the 2011 budget and have given little indication they would support increased money in the near future.

And No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans in 2002, has not been embraced by some of the new conservative members of Congress, who argue it has given the federal government too large of a role in education policy.

“This year, we’re going to have to work with Congress to fix No Child Left Behind,” Obama said here. “We’re going to replace it with a law that does a better job focusing on responsibility, reform and most of all, results.”

Although he has sharply distanced himself from his predecessor on most issues, Obama is promoting an agenda on education very similar to that of former President George W. Bush.

The centerpiece of No Child Left Behind, annual testing of students in reading and math, is backed by the Obama administration, even though many teachers and parents have complained about the testing component since the law’s creation in 2002.

Other Bush policies now in Obama’s education blueprint are strict accountability for schools, including replacing principals and staff if their students consistently perform poorly on standardized tests; strong support for charter schools; and greater efforts to closely evaluate teachers.

But Obama wants to change the law in ways that would reduce the number of schools defined as “failing” and target funding for persistently low-performing schools.

In Boston, Obama avoided getting these kinds of details. Instead, before his formal speech, he toured the school with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The couple’s non-profit foundation has donated money to TechBoston, which gives each student a laptop and requires them to take four years of math, science and technology classes.

TechBoston, like the Miami high school visited by Obama last week, is a school with a high percentage of low-income and minority students that is improving test scores and outperforming other schools in its city.

“I wanted to come to TechBoston so the rest of American could see how its done,” Obama said.”

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