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Barack Obama Speaks Out on Education, No Child Left Behind

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Barack Obama Speaks Out on Education, No Child Left Behind

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Sen. Barack Obama took a strongly progressive stance for public education and for teachers, and against publicly-funded vouchers to pay for private school education, in this July 5, 2007 speech.

Sen. Obama's remarks included a number of controversial proposals, including immediate, across-the-board pay raises for teachers, and redesign of standardized tests to support learning, not punishment of teachers.

While Sen. Obama proposed to fix the many substantial problems of the No Child Left Behind Act, he also slammed its shortcomings, and remarked, "... don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test."

(For more info, see Pros & Cons of the No Child Left Behind Act. For more info and a profile of Sen. Barack Obama, see the Barack Obama in 2008 Info Center Hub.)

National Education Association Annual Meeting
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
Philadelphia, PA
July 5, 2007

Over the last few years, I've been traveling to different schools and meeting with all kinds of educators to hear about what's working, what's not, what makes the difference when it comes to educating children today.

I've gained a lot of valuable insight from these visits, but one I'll always remember is my trip to Dodge Elementary School in my hometown of Chicago.

I was talking to one of the young teachers there about the challenges they faced, and she mentioned what she called the "These Kids Syndrome" - the willingness of society to find a million excuses for why "these kids" can't learn.

It's the idea that "these kids come from tough backgrounds" or that "these kids are too far behind." And after awhile, "these kids" become somebody else's problem.

Then she said to me, "When I hear that term, it drives me nuts. They're not 'these kids.' They're our kids."

Our kids are why all of you are in this room today.

Teachers Not Getting the Support, Pay, Respect

Our kids are why you wake up wondering how you'll make a difference and go to bed thinking about tomorrow's lesson plan.

Our kids are why you walk into that classroom every day even when you're not getting the support, or the pay, or the respect that you deserve - because you believe that every child should have a chance to succeed; that every child can be taught.

You've made our kids your life's work. And I believe it's time we put that work at the center of our politics once more.

We have never been a "these kids" country. From the earliest days of our founding, we have believed in Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "...talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition."

Public Education: The Heart of the American Promise

It is this belief that led our country to set up the first free public schools in small New England towns.

It's a promise we kept as we moved from a nation of farms to factories and created a system of public high schools so that everyone had the chance to succeed in the new economy; one we expanded after World War II, when we sent over two million returning heroes to college on the GI Bill.

And even when America fell short of this ideal and forced Linda Brown to walk miles to a dilapidated Topeka school because of the color of her skin; even then, ordinary people marched and bled, they took to the streets and fought in the courts until the arrival of nine little children at a Little Rock school made real the decision that in America, separate could never be equal.

And no matter what the Supreme Court said last week, that's still true today.

The ideal of a public education has always been at the heart of the American promise. It's why we are committed to fixing and improving our public schools instead of abandoning them and passing out vouchers.

Because in America, it's the promise of a good education for all that makes it possible for any child to transcend the barriers of race or class or background and achieve their God-given potential.

That's how America works. That's how we've met each challenge that has come our way. We rise together, as one people. And together is how teachers, education support professionals, students, and the American people will meet the challenges we face today.

We now live in a world where the most valuable skill you can sell is knowledge. Revolutions in technology and communication have created an entire economy of high-tech, high-wage jobs that can be located anywhere there's an internet connection.

And today, a child in Philadelphia is not only competing for jobs with one in Boston, but thousands more in Bangalore and Beijing who are being educated longer and better than ever before.

In the 21st century, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and America is already in danger of falling behind.

Current Status Is Morally Unacceptable

We now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. By 12th grade, our children score lower on their math and science tests than most other kids in the developed world.

Sixty percent of African-American fourth graders are unable to read at a basic level, and today only 9% of low-income students will graduate from college.

Forty or fifty years ago, students who had trouble in school might have gone on to find a factory job that could pay the bills and support a family.

But we no longer live in that world. Today, the average salary of a high school graduate is only $33,000 a year. For high school dropouts, it's even closer to the poverty line - just $25,000 a year. And sadly, some folks here aren't paid that much and that's wrong.

This is not only morally unacceptable for our children; it is economically untenable for our nation. And it means that today, the work you do and the difference you make has never been more important to the future of this country.

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