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In the District, public schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has taken a similar approach to Mr. Obama in attempting to improve the city’s public education system, which is among the worst in the country.

Mrs. Rhee, considered an early candidate to be the president’s education secretary, has included in negotiations with the Washington Teachers’ Union efforts to weaken tenure protection and to tie teachers’ pay to improved student achievement.

As he’s done on so many other issues, Mr. Obama portrayed himself as searching for a middle ground amid hardened political positions. He blamed Democrats, who he said “have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom,” and said Republicans have refused to allot the money needed for public schools “despite compelling evidence of its importance.”

“So what we get here in Washington is the same old debate about it’s more money versus more reform, vouchers versus the status quo,” he said.

In proposing early action on education Mr. Obama is following the lead of Mr. Bush, who signed No Child Left Behind in his first year as president.

The law has met with resistance on both the right and the left, but does have strong backing from particular groups, including many Hispanic rights groups that argue that the testing has helped identify schools that need more help.

No Child Left Behind is due for reauthorization later this year, and Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he wants to put more funding behind the law. He did not speak specifically about other changes he would like to see.