President Obama spoke about the importance of good teachers and said that the government needs to keep them in the classroom while giving them resources and flexibility to do their jobs. Without naming it, he referred to his administration’s signature school reform effort, Race to the Top, and credited it with persuading nearly all the states to raise their academic standards.

He sounded familiar themes in education reform, saying that great teachers should be rewarded and weak teachers removed. He challenged every state to keep students in school until they either graduate from high school or turn 18 — an attempt to reduce the number of dropouts, amounting to about one in four students nationally.

Obama said he wanted to give schools flexibility so that educators could teach with creativity and stop teaching to the test. Critics have complained that the main federal education law, No Child Left Behind, places too much emphasis on testing and that the Obama administration has not done enough to moderate the “drill and kill” test culture.

Obama also talked about college affordability. He urged Congress to stop interest rates on student loans from doubling in July and to extend the tuition tax credit. But he also said he was putting colleges and universities on notice to rein in their costs.