President Obama’s education speech today: Status quo is “morally inexcusable… economically indefensible.”

President Obama said we can longer accept the status quo in education

President Obama said we can longer accept the status quo in education

In a speech today at the National Urban League Centennial Conference, President Obama described education as “the economic issue of our time.”

Here is part of the speech. (Please read the entire speech, if you can):

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 gone to college.  It’s an economic issue when eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of this decade.  It’s an economic issue when countries that out-educate us today are going to out-compete us tomorrow.

Now, for years, we’ve recognized that education is a prerequisite for prosperity.  And yet, we’ve tolerated a status quo where America lags behind other nations.  Just last week, we learned that in a single generation, America went from number one to 12th in college completion rates for young adults.  Used to be number one, now we’re number 12.

At the same time, our 8th graders trail about eight — 10 other nations — 10 other nations in science and math.  Meanwhile, when it comes to black students, African American students trail not only almost every other developed nation abroad, but they badly trail their white classmates here at home — an achievement gap that is widening the income gap between black and white, between rich and poor.

We’ve talked about it, we know about it, but we haven’t done enough about it.  And this status quo is morally inexcusable, it s economically indefensible, and all of us are going to have to roll up our sleeves to change it.

I also want to directly speak to the issue of teachers.  We may have some teachers here in the house.   I know Urban League has got some teachers.  Nothing is more important than teachers.   The whole premise of Race to the Top is that teachers are the si

ngle most important factor in a child’s education from the moment they step into the classroom.  And I know firsthand that the vast majority of teachers are working tirelessly, are passionate about their students, are often digging into their own pockets for basic supplies, are going above and beyond the call of duty.

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 that doctors go through.    I want to give them a career ladder so they’ve opportunities to advance, and earn real financial security.  I don’t want talented young people to say I’d love to teach but I can’t afford it.

I want them to have a fulfilling and supportive workplace environment.  I want them to have the resources — from basic supplies to reasonable class sizes — that help them succeed.   And 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 are shaping our children’s future.   I want some teachers on the covers of some of those magazines.  Some teachers on MTV, featured.

So I am 110 percent behind our teachers.   But all I’m asking in return — as a President, as a parent, and as a citizen — is some measure of accountability.   So even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we’ve got to make sure we’re seeing results in the classroom.  If we’re not seeing results in the classroom, then let’s work with teachers to help them become more effective.  If that doesn’t work, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom.

115 comments Add your comment

Lisa B.

July 29th, 2010
5:06 pm

Yet here in Georgia, we take away all high school educational opportunities except college prep. Bring back the vocational track and provide more options for students.

Think for yourselves for once

July 29th, 2010
5:08 pm

Before you brainwashed right-wingers jump all over this, just pretend your Jesus, Dubya Bush, wrote this speech (which would have been unlike him anyway) instead and then try reading it again. Don’t make it all about politics like you usually do…everything he said is the truth!

Mikey D

July 29th, 2010
5:18 pm

So if you have a classroom that isn’t getting results, it HAS to be the teacher? And the “right” teacher must be found for that class. Hmmm, what about the components of the class that the teacher can NOT control, like parental involvement? Nope, can’t talk about that. It HAS to be the teacher. Because we can run a good teacher out of the profession and claim that we’re doing bold things to reform education, and we look like we’re actually doing something.

I was really hoping that education policy would improve under this administration, but it’s just more of the same. Duncan is a clown, and Obama is unwilling to do anything except throw out worthless rhetoric, regardless of how eloquently he delivers it.

This will solve everything

July 29th, 2010
5:21 pm

Let’s take a 100 highly effective teachers from schools where there is a less than 10% free and reduced lunch. Teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness on based on student test scores for a period of years.

Now let’s take those same 100 teachers, and put them in schools where the free and reduced lunch rate is over 90%. Since the teacher is the single most important factor, and other factors are of little to no consequence, there will be no drop in the overall average scores of these students, compared to the students at the more affluent schools right?

For the millionth time!

July 29th, 2010
5:25 pm

The main problem with the premise of this speech is the mantra that teachers are not accountable!!! Who makes this crap up? Of course we are accountable. We are accountable to the students, their parents, our superiors and our community. Not only that, we have to constantly read in newspapers and on blogs such as these how dumb and lazy we are. In what alternate universe are we NOT accountable?? Any principal who is halfway decent knows exactly who the bad teachers in their schools are and YES, you can get rid of them. And NO, there is no union in Georgia and jobs of bad teachers are not protected. Actually jobs of good teachers are not protected. Please, please stop perpetuating these rumors and untruths.

This will solve everything

July 29th, 2010
5:28 pm

So if we just take the effective teachers out of the schools with 10% or less free and reduced lunch and move them to the schools with 90% or more free and reduced lunch, the average scores at the 90% free and reduced lunch schools will then match up with the average scores at the 10% or less free and reduced lunch schools, because the effectiveness of the teacher overrides every other factor, correct?

Freedom Education

July 29th, 2010
5:42 pm

“we’ve tolerated the status quo” Not Oboma, he canceled the successful voucher program in DC. “teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s education.” No, Parents are. “I want them to be trained like the professionals they are –- with rigorous residencies like the ones that doctors go through. “ Hey, I’m going to make millions like doctors make. I can’t wait.


July 29th, 2010
5:43 pm

For the millionth time – There are too many principals who DON’T get rid of the bad teachers, and that gives the rest a bad name. Some teachers manage to put forth the least amount of effort possible, and some don’t even pretend to put forth an effort. I don’t know what the “how” of accountability looks like (as an ESOL teacher I’m not wild about test scores telling the story on my teaching ability), but we need it. Perhaps one place to start is evaluating teacher prep programs at colleges? I’ve had a couple of student teachers and oh my, that was eye opening. I don’t know if KSU teaches that Columbus celebrated Thanksgiving with the Indians in Virginia, but that’s what my student teacher sure thought.


July 29th, 2010
5:46 pm

Oh, and I love the idea of a “residency program.” I’ve read about that elsewhere, although I can’t remember where. It’s basically extended student teaching – more responsibility, more time in the classroom with a “master teacher” prior to teaching on your own…I think that would be very valuable. Of course, you’d really need to screen the master teachers that the “residents” get put with.

William Casey

July 29th, 2010
6:08 pm

Until something is done to improve the percentage of homes that are of the stable, two-involved-parents variety, all the education reform in the world amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. PERFECT implementation of accountability/motivation schemes for teachers would improve real student performance 3-5% over the course of a students K-12 career. Worth doing? Probably. The cure for what ails American education? Probably not.

William Casey

July 29th, 2010
6:18 pm

Fericita’s idea is a good one. A full year’s “internship” with a Master Teacher who wanted to be a mentor would be ideal. It might help with the “drop-out” problem you don’t hear much about: the high % of novice teachers who “drop-out” of the profession during their first five years. The problem with the internship is money. The solution might be using retired Master Teachers (at much lower pay) to supervise the internship. Otherwise, you’re simply taking the very best teachers out of the classroom (or at least removing them from the daily interaction with students). And, that’s NOT a good plan.

East Cobb Parent

July 29th, 2010
6:23 pm

Let’s face it some teachers are great with different type of students. Let’s bring back ability grouping because this mix of skills from the IQ of 75 to 140 isn’t working. You simply cannot put 20+ kids in a class with such deviation in abilities and truly believe that the teacher can reach all. They will do their best until they are burned out. And yes, bring back the vo-tech track for high school. Not everyone plans to attend college. Students are individuals not widgets for mass production.

Lisa B.

July 29th, 2010
6:24 pm

Micky D., Arne Duncan is going to legislate parent involvement with Race to the Top. Of course, since nothing can actually be done to enforce that, the schools will probably take the rap when parents won’t get involved in the educational process.


July 29th, 2010
6:45 pm

If the continual growth model is used; I think most teachers would go along with that model to assess acheivement. Pay teachers more, they can’t even pay us our regular salaries now. They dropped the NBC teacher pay.

As metioned in other post, principals worth their salt know which teachers don’t do a good job; know which teachers can handle all the “problem” students and know to overlook that teachers EOCT. Lastly they know the primadonna teacher that can only handle the top 20% of students.

As the president mentioned the majority of teachers work their butts off and spend their own money on students (I know I do). Teachers that get the kind of students I teach (ESL, repeaters, and thrown out of the primadonna classes) do the best we can with what we are given; BUT, to hold our pay and our jobs on what these kids score on some test without considering prior knowledge of the student before they got to me is totally unfair.


July 29th, 2010
6:45 pm

so much for the choices of our “warm and fuzzy”, “self-esteem sensitive”, “I must have a voice and choice in everything” generation. Not suprising they are unwilling to put themselves in any uncomfortable position where they have to work- we have been forced to not MAKE them work. Therein lies the issue. What happened to self-efficacy?


July 29th, 2010
6:47 pm

What he said, “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 that doctors go through. I want to give them a career ladder so they’ve opportunities to advance, and earn real financial security. I don’t want talented young people to say I’d love to teach but I can’t afford it.”

What he didn’t say but obviously supports as a means of getting there, “That’s why I fully support wholesale firings of teachers on the basis of faulty data. That way young teachers won’t realize that they will have to do the work of two or three teachers. Since they really don’t know what ‘good pay’ equate to, we will convince them that they are being paid a great wage by attaching bonuses to the performance of students, and because we call it a ‘bonus’ they will believe they are being valued.”

I said the same thing about Bush’s approach, so it’s not a republican/democrat or conservative/liberal bias. These politicians are so full of carp when it comes to education (and obviously the economy too) that it is useless to listen to them…just watch the results they get, then decide if they have a clue.

This will solve everything

July 29th, 2010
6:57 pm

“Just last week, we learned that in a single generation, America went from number one to 12th in college completion rates for young adults. Used to be number one, now we’re number 12.”

Isn’t it fair to say, that in the last 15 years or so, we have put forth more emphasis and money on “teacher quality,” and “teacher training” than ever before?

If so, then with all the improved “teacher effectiveness” why have we gone from 1 to 12 as Obama said, if the single most important factor is the teacher, and we have put more emphasis on effective teaching than in any time in our history?

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War Eagle

July 29th, 2010
7:01 pm

Let the internship involve being the mentor teacher’s parapro…that way they are in the classroom everyday assisting the teacher in every activity from lesson planning to classroom management…for the entire school year.


July 29th, 2010
7:15 pm

If he really believes so strongly in teachers, he will fire Duncan and hire someone who really knows more about teaching like Linda Darling-Hammond. The pie-in-the-sky rhetoric still squarely places all the weight upon the teacher in the classroom and ignores the other realities that undermine students’ learning. Yes, the gap between black and white students is deplorable. It will not improve unless efforts are made to instill a stronger work ethic in our children. It will not improve unless families teach their children the value of a good education.

The opportunities for the best education in the world are right here in the United States. It’s truly a shame that so many people have adopted the attitude that all the responsibility rests upon the teacher. Students and families have to understand their responsibilities for learning are critical.

Johnny Still Can't Read

July 29th, 2010
7:19 pm

I’m 100% with you Nobama–but I have a simple question:

Will your success in solving education problems be comparable to your success in:

(a) Restoring the economy?
(b) Reducing unemployment?
(c) Strengthening our military?
(f) Reducing the deficit?
(g) Paring down U.S. debt?
(h) Plugging the “damn hole” in the Gulf of Mexico?
(i) All of the above.

Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.


July 29th, 2010
7:29 pm

“Think for Yourselves….”, Do you think Obama wrote this? He’s too busy appearing on light-weight tv show, golfing, vacationing, playing golf, and giving three parties a week!

Sp Ed Teacher

July 29th, 2010
7:35 pm

Here in GA, we do have a 2 year mentoring program for new teachers. There is a stipend that goes with the program and you must be Teacher Support Specialist (TSS) certified. I am still in contact with the ones I have mentored. Also, did Sp Ed collab with some of them. We’ll all go out to lunch next week and even though I will start with a new teacher to mentor–I still keep up with previous ones.

Arnie–I heard you speak last month and you sure did lambast teachers. No on clapped for you either. A long pause of silence.

Happy Teacher

July 29th, 2010
7:46 pm

What continues to baffle me, and disappoint me, is that teachers don’t seen to recognize that the ONLY thing that will ever fix the problem of bad parenting/unprepared children is EDUCATION. There is nothing else that ever has, or ever will, work.

If you truly believe that all the problems start at home and continue into school, then you must recognize that the cycle can only stop in our nation’s classrooms. Is that a difficult burden to bear? Yes, but it is the challenge we must rise to. Or shrink from…

Happy Teacher

July 29th, 2010
7:47 pm


July 29th, 2010
7:49 pm

Has Obama ever gone into a classroom and talked to teachers? Has he ever gone to the homes of students who are under performing to find out what their life is like outside of the classroom? Has Obama ever considered that teachers, particularly those at the secondary level, actually have a small amount of time with each student, somewhere about an hour a day? Has Obama ever actually attempted to teach an apathetic adolescent? Teachers are certainly important and valuable, but they are only one part of the learning process. To lay the blame squarely at the feet of teachers and make them solely responsible for a student’s learning is not only unfair, but completely ridiculous.


July 29th, 2010
7:50 pm

Why is there surprise from Obama in this speech? It’s the carrot-stick approach. The money is dangled then when it is taken there is accountability in the form of federal government intrusion into local education. The people have gotten the education they deserve. If you don’t take the time at home to teach your child how to behave, how to read, and so many other things. Put them to bed at a decent hour, limit the TV, talk to them and develop their vocabulary, and read to them then don’t be surprised when your child struggles in school. This isn’t about poverty, this is about parenting.


July 29th, 2010
7:51 pm

The question should be “Why is there surprise from people about Obama’s speech?”

This will solve everything

July 29th, 2010
7:53 pm

Just because a person disagrees with you Happy Teacher, doesn’t mean in any way, shape, or form they put any less effort into their work than you do.

Recent Graduate

July 29th, 2010
7:57 pm

I just graduated from DSC in education. We had to do internship every semester of the program there. We were constantly in a classroom and gained more experience than other students at Georgia colleges and Universities. I firmly believe that all colleges should have the system that DSC has in training future teachers.

why not

July 29th, 2010
8:02 pm

Why not teach from the Bible. This would help ethics, behavior of students and adults. Respect and forgiveness and love are key elements of a successful life. This would involve family and community.
You know this is what worked back when we were number 1 in education and everything else.


July 29th, 2010
8:06 pm

Agree that ability grouping is a must.

Happy Teacher

July 29th, 2010
8:22 pm

Who said anything about effort?


July 29th, 2010
8:24 pm

Nothing is more important than teachers. The whole premise of Race to the Top is that teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s education from the moment they step into the classroom.


I am an important factor in a child’s education when he/she enters my second grade classroom however, I am NOT – NOT the single most important factor in that child’s education. Education begins at home not inside the classroom/school. We are the second teachers not the first. We do not see these children for the first 5 to 6 years of their lives. We do not teach them to walk, talk, eat, stand, crawl, etc. PARENTS or someone but not us. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired for being blamed for students not succeeding.

In most cases little Johnny, Becky, Shantce, etc. have issues that stem from their parents, home, etc. that over powers their learning process NOT teachers. Why don’t we implement more counseling programs to help these families and perhaps we teachers can produce more effective learners for a more productive work force.


July 29th, 2010
8:33 pm

Ability grouping… group kids by each 20% points. 80-100 in one class…. 60-80 in the next … then 40-60 and on down the line. Set up growth targets based on growth expectations for each achievement level. There are lots of tests that measure growth over the year that have been around long enough and have been used widely enough that they already have expected growth rates for each achievement level. Base teacher raises on growth testing not garbage like CRCT testing. With each level of student, place the teacher that deals best with that level in that classroom. If you must, offer higher pay to teach the lower levels… but… make that higher pay conditioned on meeting growth targets.


July 29th, 2010
8:36 pm

Education is definitely our economic issue of the future and most will not realize it until 25 or 30 years from now.

However, all those that cry about local control, must admit that the federal government is not holding a gun to your head when it comes to advancing education in your school system. I haven’t seen a case for local government where they were told, by the federal government, that they could “NOT” do anything to improve their school systems.

This is a pure case of blaming someone else for your failure and not wanting to admit you are failing.


July 29th, 2010
8:36 pm

Recent Graduate: Not too cutting edge–The University of Tennessee had its ed students in the classroom starting the second quarter in 1970!


July 29th, 2010
8:40 pm

I hope we all want the best educational program in the world for our students in the U.S. We will not achieve that goal by using some paper and pencil tests that are always inadequate in measuring the complexity of the learning process. Why don’t we use some tests to measure the effectiveness of politicians, physicians, attorneys, BP executives, and everyone else in our world? Let’s show the teachers the respect Obama alludes to by asking them how to measure effective teachers, learning strategies, parenting skills, etc that impact the pupil’s learning success. Certainly, politicians are not the persons to provide the answers for the best educational practices for our students.

Teacher Reader

July 29th, 2010
8:45 pm

Glad that I left teaching this year. I want to be held accountable for the things that I am able to control. Extending student teaching isn’t going to magically make a teacher good. Honestly evaluating the student teachers during their time in the classroom and giving them an honest grade will change things. I have seen too many student teachers not get observed by mentor teachers from the university or get observed for only one or two times, that their evaluations held no water.

There are so many factors that a teacher cannot control. Teachers cannot control what is going on in a child’s home, if they ate, if they slept in a bed, if they got to bed at a descent time, if they got to get their homework done, etc.

Good teachers leave teaching, because they are tired of teaching to a meaningless test and not being able to offer their students a quality education that teaches students more deeply about the material that they are to cover. Money isn’t everything, being able to take pride in what you do and do it to the best of your ability with as little nonsense as possible meant a great deal more to me than a few extra bucks.


July 29th, 2010
8:47 pm

I’m confused. I thought integrated schools were supposed to close the achievement gap between black and white students. Yet, here we are 50+ years after Brown vs Board and the achievement gap is still here.

Could it be something else. Could there be differences in IQ between the races?

Oh no, that wouldn’t be politically correct.

bootney farnsworth

July 29th, 2010
8:53 pm

Enter your comments here

bootney farnsworth

July 29th, 2010
8:55 pm

that idiot Obama better hope the low standards of US education
stay right where they are.

an educated populace would never have bought his line of
poo and elected him in the first place.


July 29th, 2010
8:58 pm

Yes, yes Sarahp and East Cobb Parent. Inclusion has hampered all students and put teachers in a nearly impossible situation, especially in Elem School. You can’t help all levels when the learning levels are so diverse, so you teach to either the lowest common denominator – or the largest group. Either way, too many students lose.

A Teacher

July 29th, 2010
8:59 pm

It’s a conspcious omission to mention the “achievement gap” in terms of only white and black students, and the president should be embarrassed that he is not more representative in his description of the achievement gap.

If we want to talk about all major ethnic groups in America THESE are the FACTS about order from highest to lowest:


What Obama failed to mention was that Asian’s are the highest achieving subgroup – above whites – and hispanics are the lowest – below blacks.

Come on Obama…you are the President…you should be better informed.

Also, EDUCATION IS ABOUT MORE THAN TESTING !!!! What about a love for learning? How are aesthetics’ to be assessed. Ladies and gentlemen, what they won’t tell you is that standardized multiple choice test are INCAPABLE of measuring many important cognitive and life skills, and things like imagination, creativity, and writing skills.

Concerned 1

July 29th, 2010
9:01 pm

In the words of Bill Clinton, “it’s the economy stu___!” There is a direct correlation between test results and socioeconomic status.


July 29th, 2010
9:02 pm

Lee – schools are just as, if not more segregated now than ever before. Check out this article for verification from Teaching Tolerance magazine: , or pretty much anything written by Jonathan Kozol.

A Teacher

July 29th, 2010
9:03 pm

No, not a direct correlation, but perhaps a positive correlation.

Concerned 1

July 29th, 2010
9:04 pm

Lee, do your real homework.

bootney farnsworth

July 29th, 2010
9:09 pm

@ Lee

you sure proved there is a gap between the IQs of
decent people and bigots.

someone be sure and tell:
Guy Bluford
Clarence Thomas
Neil Tyson
Herman Cain
JC Watts
Maya Angelou
Juan Williams
Ben Bradley
LaVar Burton
Cab Calloway
Bill Cosby
Wally Amos
Leonard Pitts

they’re not as smart as white folk.

Lee, you’re an bigger idiot than Obama


July 29th, 2010
9:10 pm

The University of Arkansas will not give you a teaching license with your Bachelors Degree in Ed. You must stay an additional year and get your Masters and intern in a classroom for a FULL year in order to be recommended for licensure. This SHOULD be the status quo.