Obama must come through on education

President Obama has delivered his version of John F. Kennedy's plea for citizens to do more for their country. In a word, Obama is urging the next generation to teach. If only it were that simple.

President Obama has delivered his version of John F. Kennedy's plea for citizens to do more for their country. In a word, Obama is urging the next generation to teach. If only it were that simple.

It is not just in income that there is a growing gap between rich and poor. It is also in the quality of education their children receive and what is expected of them.

In his first speech on education since becoming president, Obama did not sugarcoat the dilemma. In essence, he insisted, the international standing of the United States depends on improving education. Simply put, the future belongs to the country that best educates its citizens.

"Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we've let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us," Obama warned.

He continued, "It's time to expect more from our students. It's time to start rewarding good teachers, stop making excuses for bad ones. It's time to demand results from government at every level. It's time to prepare every child, everywhere in America, to out-compete any worker, anywhere in the world."


His predecessor, George W. Bush, prodded by his wife, a former school librarian, also realized that Americans are being outshone when it comes to preparing the next generation for life in a complicated world. Bush's answer was to push passage of his No Child Left Behind law, which has yet to be reauthorized.

For many reasons, including unfunded mandates and teaching children not how to learn but how to pass tests, No Child Left Behind became No Child Left Untested. It has failed.

Obama proposes to take on the powerful teachers' unions (despite their lip service to the intent of his plans). He endorses merit pay for teachers based on student achievement, weeding out bad and ineffective teachers and creating publicly funded charter schools that operate independently.

He also insists on longer school days, school weeks and school years. In other countries, children attend classes on Saturdays and do not have the entire summer off.

Obama also pleaded with smart, educated young people just starting their careers to consider teaching, although one-third of teachers quit shortly after they begin.

It's not money -- not in this economy. Many public school teachers make decent salaries. But too many don't feel they have professional respect. Others hate the bureaucracy that stifles the fun of learning or they hate the fact that bad teachers get the same benefits no matter how poorly their students do.

Some don't see room for advancement or growth. Others hate the lack of discipline and outright physical fear that prevail in many schools. Many are disheartened by outdated laboratories, broken, inadequate equipment and crumbling infrastructure in our schools.

We like to think we love our children above all and will do anything for them. That is not true. Children often get short shrift. And then we mortgage their future with high deficits and shortsighted planning.


It's hard not to be frightened. It seems that we have been on a blissful, uncaring joyride for decades. Now we have so much to do in America it seems overwhelming.

It's time to stop, take a breath and prioritize, accepting that we have no choice but to improve our schools.

It's not as if we don't know a good teacher when we see one. It's not as if we don't know how to maintain discipline. It's not as if we don't know how to motivate students to learn. We do. We just have to do the hard work of applying that knowledge, throwing out the dead wood and reordering the system.

Let's make certain Obama doesn't get distracted by other crises and that myopic, ossified school boards don't thwart reform. Let's demand more of ourselves and our children when it comes to their education. Recess is over.

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