And while we're at it, let's finally help our teachers and principals develop assessments that teach our kids to become more than just good test-takers.
Part Three: Reform Testing of Students
That's why the third part of my plan is to work with our nation's governors and educators to create and use assessments that can improve achievement all across America by including the kinds of research, scientific investigation, and problem-solving that our children will need to compete in a 21st century knowledge economy.
New Hampshire has been a leader on this. You've developed innovative assessments, including digital portfolios, to develop and demonstrate student proficiency in technology, science, and other core content areas, and there's no reason we can't start replicating this all across the country.
The goal of educational testing should be the same as medical testing - to diagnose a student's needs so you can help address them.
Tests should not be designed as punishment for teachers and students, they should be used as tools to help our children grow and compete.
Tests should support learning, not just accounting. Because if we really want our children to become the great inventors and problem-solvers of tomorrow, our schools shouldn't stifle innovation, they should let it thrive.
Make Science Education a Priority
One of the subject areas where this is especially important is science.
No Child Left Behind's intense emphasis on teaching to the test has been shown to reduce the amount of time spent on teaching and assessing science - a subject area that is absolutely critical to our competitiveness as a nation.
When I'm President, we will make science instruction a national priority, and we'll develop assessments that don't just test isolated bits of information, but advanced skills like logic, data analysis, and interpretation. New Hampshire has already begun to do this, and there's no reason the rest of the country can't do the same thing.
The Forgotten: Often Black, Latino, Poor
Finally, as you and I stand here today, know that there is a generation of children growing up on the mean streets and forgotten corners of this country who are slipping away from us as we speak.
They walk down Corridors of Shame in rural South Carolina and sit in battered classrooms somewhere in East L.A. They are overwhelmingly black and Latino and poor.
And when they look around and see that no one has lifted a finger to fix their school since the 19th century; when they are pushed out the door at the sound of the last bell - some into a virtual war zone - is it any wonder they don't think their education is important?
Is it any wonder that they are dropping out in rates we've never seen before?
I know these children. I know their sense of hopelessness. I began my career over two decades ago as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago's South Side.
And I worked with parents and teachers and local leaders to fight for their future. We set up after school programs and we even protested outside government offices so that we could get those who had dropped out into alternative schools. And in time, we changed futures.
And so while I know hopelessness, I also know hope. I know that:
- if we bring early education programs to these communities;
- if we stop waiting until high-school to address the drop-out rate and start in earlier grades;
- if we bring in new, qualified teachers;
- if we expand college outreach programs like GEAR UP and TRIO and fight to expand summer learning opportunities like I've done in the Senate;
- if we do all this, we can make a difference in the lives of our children and the life of this country - not just in East L.A. or the south side of Chicago, but here in Manchester, and suburban Boston, and rural Mississippi.
But I cannot do it alone. Government cannot do it alone. We can spend billion after billion on education in this country. We can develop a program for every problem imaginable, and we can fund those programs with every last dime we have.
Required: An Involved Parent
But there is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child's education from day one.
There is no substitute for a parent who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, make sure their children are in school on time, and help them with their homework after dinner.
And I have no doubt that we will still be talking about these problems in the next century if we do not have parents who are willing to turn off the TV once in awhile, and put away the video games, and read to their child.
Responsibility for our children's education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them, and spend time with them, and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable.
You know a few years ago, a little girl at Earhart Elementary in Chicago was asked the secret to her academic success. She said, "I just study hard every night because I like learning. My teacher wants me to be a good student, and so does my mother. I don't want to let them down."
Democratic Promise of a Good Education
The challenge we face at this moment is great, but we have met great challenges before. Over the course of two centuries, we have fought and struggled and overcome to expand the promise of a good education ever further - a promise that has allowed millions to transcend the barriers of race and class and background to achieve their God-given potential.
It is now our moment to keep that promise - the promise of America - alive in the 21st century. It's our generation's turn to stand up and say to the little girl in Chicago, or the little boy in Manchester, or the millions like them all across the country that they are not 'these kids' - they are our kids.
They do not want to let us down, and we cannot let them down either. That's what I'll be fighting for in this election, and that's what I'll do as President of the United States. I hope you'll join me in that journey.
For more info, see Barack Obama's Plan for Lifetime Success Through Education.