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Worth reading: Obama, taking on unions, backs teacher merit pay

Original post made by Resident, Another Pleasanton neighborhood, on Mar 10, 2009

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By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer Philip Elliott, Associated Press Writer – 47 mins ago

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President Barack Obama speaks about education at the 19th Annual Legislative AP – President Barack Obama speaks about education at the 19th Annual Legislative Conference of the United

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama embraced merit pay for teachers Tuesday in spelling out a vision of education that will almost certainly alienate union backers.

Educators oppose charter schools because they divert tax dollars away from traditional public schools. Merit-based systems for teachers have for years been anathema to teachers' unions, a powerful force in the Democratic Party.

Obama acknowledged this in his talk to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom," he said, delivering the first major education speech of his presidency. "Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance."

But he argued that a far-reaching overhaul of the nation's education system is an economic imperative that can't wait, despite the urgency of the financial crisis and other pressing issues.

"Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us," Obama said. "The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream."

The ideas the president promoted were nearly all elements of his campaign platform last year. He only barely mentioned the reauthorization of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, which introduced sweeping reforms that schools are struggling to meet without the funding to match. Obama said his administration would "later this year" ensure that schools get the funding they need and that the money is conditioned on results.

Among the principles Obama laid out were:

_Challenging states to adopt world-class standards rather than a specific standard. Obama's economic stimulus plan includes a $5 billion incentive fund to reward states for, among other things, boosting the quality of standards and state tests, and the president said the Education Department would create a fund to invest in innovation.

_Improved pre-kindergarten programs, including $5 billion in the stimulus plan to grow Head Start, expand child care access and do more for children with special needs. He also said he would offer 55,000 first-time parents regular visits from trained nurses and said that states that develop cutting-edge plans to raise the quality of early learning programs would get an Early Learning Challenge Grant, if Congress approves the new program.

_Reducing student dropout rates. To students, Obama said: "Don't even think about dropping out of school." But he said that reducing the dropout rates also requires turning around the worst schools, something he asked lawmakers, parents and teachers to make "our collective responsibility as Americans."

_Repeating his call for everyone to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training, with the goal of highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.

On charter schools, he said the caps instituted by some states on how many are allowed aren't "good for our children, our economy, or our country."

Obama also spoke at length about what he described his policy toward teachers, what he called an `unprecedented commitment to ensure that anyone entrusted with educating our children is doing the job as well as it can be done." In up to 150 more school districts, Obama said, teachers will get mentoring, more money for improved student achievement and new responsibilities.

Also, Obama said, "We need to make sure our students have the teacher they need to be successful. That means states and school districts taking steps to move bad teachers out of the classroom. Let me be clear: if a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching."

The president acknowledged that a rethinking of the traditional American school day may not be welcome — "not in my family, and probably not in yours" — but is critical.

"The challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom," Obama said. "If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America."

After the speech, Obama stopped at a hotel to drop in on another meeting, an already scheduled and ongoing round-table discussion between Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which involves the heads of education from every state and U.S. territory.

Comments

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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Mohr Park
on Mar 10, 2009 at 11:01 am

Sandy is a registered user.

I support merit pay for teachers, and I heartily agree with President Obama when he says "We need to make sure our students have the teacher they need to be successful. That means states and school districts taking steps to move bad teachers out of the classroom. Let me be clear: if a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching."


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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 10, 2009 at 12:29 pm

"_Challenging states to adopt world-class standards rather than a specific standard."

One advantage that other countries have over the US in education is a national curriculum with national accountability. The Newsweek ranking of Pleasanton high schools by using voluntary AP and IB test scores is a prime example at how difficult it is to compare the quality of US high schools apples to apples in light of no national standard.


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Posted by Karen
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2009 at 4:14 pm

It's difficult to compare the US with other countries because we attempt to educate ALL kids while other countries have entrance exams at various grade levels and their teenagers have passed through at least one gauntlet to gain entrance to advanced studies. It's not comparing apples to apples. I like our system better because it allows for individual differences in maturity and recognizes the possibilites of achievement even in kids who come late to the process.

Now that I've said that...I also think it's about time we embrace merit pay for teachers and do away with tenure. There's a mountain of mediocrity in schools that we need to reform.


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Posted by Remorse
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 10, 2009 at 6:00 pm

BO may have VERBALLY kicked the unions today w/ his endorsement of merit pay (which i agree) but its what he DOES that matters not what he says. If anything is crystal clear to me now, (as a former BO supporter who now has big time remorse)I have learned that his words are cheap. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. i wont be fooled again.


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Posted by Fan of IB
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Mar 10, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Stacey,
Couldn't agree with you more.
The International Baccalaureate program would be a terrific model to adopt to see our way to a "world class" education system here in the US. Fat chance however with so many school districts/educators/unions entrenched in the mediocrity we see today. A charter IB school was proposed here in Pleasanton 8 or 9 years ago but was NOT supported by PUSD in any way, shape or form.

FYI-Newsweek does not measure actual SCORES on the AP or IB exams to determine ranking on the list. PUSD would not do as well as we do in that case-it merely looks at how MANY AP or IB EXAMS students sign up for or take. A whole different (and perhaps meaningless?) ballgame when you think about it.


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Posted by No Remorse
a resident of Dublin
on Mar 11, 2009 at 11:52 am

The man has been in office only since January, give him a chance. In this day of "instant gratification" people expect miricles in a New York minute.

He will not make me happy on everything I support but he is taking some action. I do not have remorse for my vote for President Obama.