Obama links education reform to economic crisis

March 11th, 2009 - 1:07 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 10 (DPA) President Barack Obama said reforming the US education system was critical to the long-term health of the country’s economy as he outlined his reform plans in a policy speech Tuesday.
Obama, whose time has mostly been taken up with a deepening recession since he entered office in January, warned that suffering standards of education could not be ignored and threatened the United States’ global standing over the long haul.

“We don’t have the luxury of choosing to get our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term,” Obama said in a speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

“The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, it’s unsustainable for our democracy, it’s unacceptable for our children, and we cannot let it continue,” he said.

Obama outlined the broad strokes of his education reform plans, calling for a bipartisan solution and tasking teachers, parents and students to take on greater responsibility.

Obama called out both political parties for holding onto “failed” ideas. He challenged fellow Democrats to accept an incentivised pay system for teachers, which rewards performance but has been opposed by teachers unions, and said schools must be willing to fire under-performing teachers.

His plan includes money for 150 school districts to reward teachers for performance. Teachers unions have alleged such a plan would create unhealthy competition between teachers and encourage them to teach to tests that measure student performance at the expense of more creative learning methods.

Obama did not address the No Child Left Behind legislation enacted by his predecessor, George W Bush, which was designed to boost standards at US schools but which has been widely criticized by teachers groups.

Obama called on Republicans to lift their opposition to more funding for early childhood education programmes that have shown results.

Obama warned that the US was quickly falling behind the education standards of other countries, and noted that less educated workers had “borne the brunt” of an economic crisis that has cost more than four million jobs since a recession began in December 2007.

He also called for reforms to help students pay for university, including an increase in grants for poor students and new tax credits for families paying tuition.

Another proposal, included increasing the hours of instruction, possibly by expanding the academic year, which currently runs from late August or early September until early June at most schools.

“The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens,” Obama said. “My fellow Americans, we have everything we need to be that nation.”

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