- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

UPDATED:

President Obama on Friday pledged an additional $4.35 billion in grants to states that can improve public education — part of his long-term goal of U.S. students again being among the best in the world.

“Better standards. Better teaching. Better schools. Data-driven results,” the president said at a press conference at the Education Department’s headquarters in the District.

Mr. Obama said the money would go to states that set high standards for student achievement and that 46 of them have already come together to meet that goal.

“I urge those 46 states to finish the job. I urge the other four to get on board,” Mr. Obama said to some laughter.

The president said the money will be used to get the best teachers into classrooms and that the “Race to the Top” grant program will not force teachers to “teach to a test” or judge a teacher only on student test scores.

In some cases the money could go toward helping a struggling teacher, he said.

Mr. Obama said the program would not result in too many tests as in the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative.

The president also said charter schools will not be held to a lower standard than public schools.

Mr. Obama, who wants the U.S. by 2020 to lead the world in college graduations, said the emphasis of the program will be on math and science education and helping the worst performing schools, including the bottom 2,000 high schools that produce 50 percent of the country’s dropouts.

“This competition will not be based on politics or ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group,” Mr. Obama said. “Instead, it will be based on a simple principle: whether a state is ready to do what works.”

More than $10 billion in grant money will be available to states and districts through the 2009 budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to Education Department.

Some of the additional $5.6 billion will come from the $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund; $297 million in the Teacher Incentive Fund, to help place teachers in hard-to-teach subjects; and $315 million from the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems program, to help states improve data bases for student achievement from preschool through college.

The data bases also link students records to their teachers and principals.

Mr. Obama used the example of California having 300,000 teachers and no good way of distinguishing the best from the worst.

“That’s where data comes in,” the president said. “Basketball coaches have a game tape for the team to see what they did right and what they did wrong after a tough series. Teachers and principals should have a way of doing the same.” The bulk of the $5.6 billion will be $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement Grants. The guidelines for the grants are scheduled to be published within weeks.

“We’re looking to drive reform, reward excellence and dramatically improve our nations schools,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who joined Mr. Obama at the event.

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