- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

President Obama on Tuesday put the nation’s teachers on notice that their performance will be tracked and good teachers will be rewarded, while bad teachers will be tossed out of the classroom.

Calling for a “new culture of accountability” in schools, Mr. Obama proposed building on rather than replacing the No Child Left Behind education law signed by President Bush. But Mr. Obama said it’s time to put more money, better tracking of teachers’ performance, higher standards and real accountability behind the law.

“Let me be clear: If a teacher is given a chance, or three chances, but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching,” the president said. “I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.”

Even as he tries to boost the economy, Mr. Obama has chosen education, along with tackling global warming and working to extend health care coverage, as issues he says need immediate action. In laying out his education agenda to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, the president issued challenges to schools, states and Congress — and to students and parents themselves.

“The bottom line is that no government policies will make any difference unless we also hold ourselves more accountable as parents, because government, no matter how wise or efficient, cannot turn off the TV or put away the video games. Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your children leave for school on time and do their homework when they get back at night,” he said.

He proposed expanding charter schools, pushing children under the age of 5 to get into early education programs so they’re ready for kindergarten, setting goals for lowering the high school dropout rate and putting Pell grants for low-income college students on firmer footing.

Though the federal government has taken a bigger role in funding and pressing for changes, education is still primarily a state and local responsibility, and Mr. Obama generally offered challenges to states to raise their standards and to expand early-learning programs.

He even called out some poor-performing states such as Mississippi, where he said fourth-graders score 70 points lower on a reading test than do students in Wyoming — but get the same grades.

But he also praised states such as Massachusetts, where he said eighth-graders are tied for first in the world in science.

President Bush in his first year in office signed No Child Left Behind, which called for states to set standards and required regular testing to measure students’ and schools’ performance.

No Child Left Behind has met with resistance on both the right and the left, but does have strong backing from particular groups, including many Hispanic rights groups who argue the testing has helped identify schools that need more help.

The No Child bill is due for reauthorization later this year, and Mr. Obama is expected to propose some changes but not to scrap the program entirely, as some of his supporters want.

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