COMET • Vol. 10, No. 08 – 19 March 2009


(1) President Obama’s First Major Speech on Education

Sources: PBS, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Department of Education

On Tuesday, March 10, President Barack Obama delivered his first major speech on education reform before several hundred Hispanic entrepreneurs and business leaders from around the nation who gathered in Washington, D.C. for the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s 19th Annual Legislative Conference.

During the keynote presentation, President Obama addressed issues such as the importance of creating jobs, restarting business lending, and healing the ailing financial system. He emphasized the importance of education and reiterated his five pillars of education reform: early childhood education, standards and testing, teacher quality, innovation, and higher education.

He began with a call for early education initiatives such as pre-K and Head Start. “For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly ten dollars back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health costs, and less crime,” he said. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contained $5 billion to help states enroll children in innovative programs and take care of young children.

The second priority, the president said, is ending “a race to the bottom in our schools and instead, spur a race to the top by encouraging better standards and assessments.”

America’s curriculum for eighth graders is two full years behind top performing countries, he said, adding that the system which allows states to create their own standards has resulted in “4th grade readers in Mississippi scoring nearly 70 points lower than students in Wyoming–and getting the same grade.”

While Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has not directly stated that the administration seeks to develop national standards to replace the 50 sets of standards that currently exist, the stimulus package contains $15 billion in incentive grants to help states revamp their testing, data analysis, and standards.

The third pillar set forward by the president was “recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers.”

While the Recovery Act sets aside $400 million for “teacher quality,” there are billions more in state aid to focus on improving classroom instruction.

“If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make the most of your talents and dedication; if you want to make your mark with a legacy that will endure–join the teaching profession. America needs you,” Mr. Obama said.

At the same time, the president said, “if [an ineffective] teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.”

In the fourth goal, President Obama called for innovation, drawing on concepts like charter schools and changes to the traditional school calendar. “I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas–not in my family, and probably not in yours,” he said.

“We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day,” Mr. Obama said, pointing out that American children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea.

The president also said that merit-based systems for teachers have long faced resistance from teachers’ unions, a powerful force in the Democratic Party. “Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom,” he said. “Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance.”

Outlining his final education goal, the president focused on higher education, and noted the availability of an additional $30 billion for Pell Grants and higher education tax credits. The Recovery Act raises the maximum Pell Grant to $5,550 a year and provides a $2,500 a year tuition tax credit for students from working families.

While many of the president’s education initiatives do not immediately create jobs, the Department of Education has tried to jump start the economy by making $44 billion of the stimulus funds available by the end of March.

“Spend funds quickly to save and create jobs,” urged a 5-page document emailed to governors, state education commissioners and school superintendents. Secretary Duncan urged the 14,000 school districts in the nation to start spending the money, but to keep detailed records, as accountability is a top priority.

Before the stimulus, school officials anticipated shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs due to growing state budget deficits caused by a steep drop in tax revenues.

To view President Obama’s speech, visit


(2) State Education Leaders Stand Ready to Help Deliver the President’s Call for Reforms

Source: Council of Chief State School Officers

After President Obama addressed the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 10, he briefly addressed members of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) during their 2009 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.   CCSSO members include top state elementary and secondary public education officials from across the country. President Obama highlighted the importance of the nation’s public education system to the economy and urged the leaders to transform the national education agenda during challenging economic times.

”The economies in states all across the country are hurting, and that’s putting a lot of pressure on you. We’ve tried to provide some relief here, but what we don’t want to do is put more money into the same old system. We want to see if we can also use this crisis as an opportunity to turn things around,” stated President Obama in his address to CCSSO members and invited guests.

President Obama’s focus on the importance of state education officials in leading necessary change in states is clear. CCSSO Executive Director Gene Wilhoit stated after the President’s address, “President Obama agrees there is a need for change, and he has clearly challenged us to deliver. We are ready, as states, to deliver on that promise. We owe it to this Administration and we owe it to every student in this country.”

Chief education officials attending the conference engaged in discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his top staff on issues of stimulus fund distribution and reporting, as well as four key opportunity areas where innovation and reform are to be focused: standards, assessment, and accountability; data systems; teacher quality and distribution; and school improvement. These four key areas are aligned with issues CCSSO and its members–the state leaders of education–have identified as priorities in transforming public education for students. This was the third conversation Secretary of Education Duncan has had with state education leaders and is a follow-up to the chiefs’ February 25 visit to the White House.

Visit to view President Obama’s 4-minute address.


(3) Charlie Rose Hosts “A Conversation with Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education”

URL (Interview Clip):
URL (Full Interview):

On March 11, Charlie Rose interviewed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The 54-minute interview, which also includes clips from President Obama’s March 10 address on education to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is available in its entirety at

Topics included early childhood education, the President’s K-12 reform agenda, higher education (including $30 billion in the Stimulus Package to increase college access and opportunity), a “new culture of accountability” (among students, parents, teachers, and the business community), charter schools, and an expanded view of schools–keeping schools open 12+ hours a day, 12 months a year, 6-7 days a week. “Where the school becomes the center of community life, great things are going to happen for those families and for the children,” the president said. (An approximately 8-minute clip at  provides a glimpse of a few of these topics.)


(4) Statement by the Council of the Great City Schools on the White House Meeting with Urban School Leaders


Thirty members of the Council of the Great City Schools–a coalition of the nation’s largest urban public school systems–participated in a two-hour roundtable discussion at the White House with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, on Monday, March 16. They discussed how best to utilize the economic stimulus package to improve and advance American urban public education.

“We had an opportunity to learn how we might take advantage of the stimulus funds in creating and saving hundreds of programs to help our inner-city children achieve, implementing shovel-ready projects to aid in modernizing our school buildings, and investing in initiatives to provide the best school teachers and principals in underserved schools,” says Council Executive Director Michael Casserly.

Showing gratitude for the stimulus funds, Bill Isler, chair of the Council and member of the Pittsburgh school board, stressed, “We know that we need to spend the funds wisely, transparently and effectively in a short period. With this meeting today, we have a better idea of how to channel the funds to spur progress in the classrooms and throughout our school systems to enhance reform efforts.”

Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson noted that the roundtable discussion gave her a better understanding about the stimulus provisions, guidelines and funds, and how they can be put to use in accelerating reform efforts. “We believe that Secretary Duncan and President Obama appreciate the need to spur progress in the nation’s urban centers to improve the economy and better prepare our students for global competition.”

The nation’s Superintendent of the Year, Atlanta’s Beverly Hall, welcomes the stimulus funds to help lift her reform initiatives to new heights. “With this new support, Atlanta Public Schools is ready to put the funds to the best use in elevating our educational programs to increase student progress.”

School leaders from New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia and other major cities throughout the nation attended the two-hour session.

Related articles:

(a) Fresno Superintendent Hopes Stimulus Education Funds Get to Schools” by Michael Doyle

Source: The Fresno Bee – 16 March 2009

Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Michael Hanson worries that Sacramento will peel away education funds provided in a big economic stimulus bill.

He’s not alone. Meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other top White House officials Monday, urban educators fretted about the fate of $100 billion in new school funds. They fear the money may get stuck in cash-strapped state capitals instead of flowing all the way to local school districts…

The new education funding was included in the $787 billion economic stimulus bill.

“There’s never been so much money available,” Duncan said, adding that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we haven’t seen in decades.”

At the same time, Duncan stressed that he’ll be expecting school districts will use at least some of the new funding to “challenge the status quo.” This could mean making school days longer, adding to the school year, or aggressively recruiting new high-quality teachers.

School districts promising such innovations could compete well for about $5 billion in competitive grants provided through the stimulus package, Duncan said. The other $95 billion included in the stimulus package will be distributed according to existing funding formulae.

“That’s very, very attractive to us,” [Fresno Unified School District Michael] Hanson said of the potential competitive grants.

Overall, Hanson estimated the Fresno school district could potentially gain at least $56 million in additional funds under the stimulus bill signed by President Barack Obama last month. The money would support programs serving low-income and disabled students, vocational education and more.

The Title I program, aiding low-income students, will be among the biggest recipients. It is also one of the first education programs for which district-by-district allocations are available…

All told, preliminary Education Department estimates show California receiving $8.5 billion in education funding from the stimulus package. The jolt of funding is far beyond what had been provided during the prior Bush administration.

“They’re not even different worlds,” Hanson said when asked about the funding differences. “They’re different galaxies.”

But with many states sharing California’s budget distress, the educators who arrived in Washington over the weekend advised Duncan and top White House adviser Valerie Jarrett that the new money could get diverted before it reaches the schools. Hanson noted the worrying only worsened last Friday, when California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office predicted the state still faced an $8 billion budget shortfall.

Hanson said Obama administration officials are still figuring out the intricacies of the funding process, including ways to ensure local school districts get the stimulus money they need. The Education Department is supposed to distribute the first $44 billion in stimulus funding over the next six weeks, with the remainder provided by September 30…

(b) Education Department to Distribute $44 Billion in Stimulus Funds in 30 to 45 Days

Source: U.S. Department of Education – 7 March 2009


(5) “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Keeping Teachers Teaching and Students Learning”—A Special Edition of “Education News Parents Can Use”

Source:  U.S. Department of Education – 17 March 2009

On March 17, the U.S. Department of Education devoted a special edition of its monthly TV show, “Education News Parents Can Use” to an examination of how the recently enacted stimulus package can help save or create jobs and promote education reform.

Leading educators, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and California State University (CSU) Chancellor Charles Reed, were among those explaining how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will spur positive change. Some of the questions addressed were the following:

– What are the key educational components of the ARRA?
– How will the act avert teacher and administrator layoffs and generate jobs?
– How will it spur innovation and reform and make us more competitive in the global economy?
– How will it help more students afford, attend and ultimately succeed in college?
– Where can parents and educators find out more about the act and monitor how the funds are being spent on the federal, state and local level?

The program began with a clip of President Obama’s speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 10 and was followed by a summary of the major education areas to be funded by the economic stimulus package. A prerecorded 17-minute conversation between Arne Duncan and Charles Reed (focusing on higher education and college readiness) followed. Also on the program were Anne Bryant, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association; Amy Wilkins, Vice President of The Education Trust, Washington, D.C.; Susan Castillo, Superintendent, Oregon State Department of Education; Kenneth Cox, Superintendent, Vernonia School District, Oregon; and William Hite, Interim Superintendent, Prince George’s County Public Schools, MD.

To view the program, visit


Related Article:

“To Reach Obama’s Goal, Colleges Should Get Billions From U.S., Cal State Chief Says”

Source: California State University (CSU)

When he was in Washington, D.C. to visit with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, CSU Chancellor Charles Reed was interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Chancellor Reed wants the federal government to provide direct aid to four-year colleges based on the number of students they enroll who are eligible for Pell Grants or who are from underrepresented minority groups. He says that such a program, which he estimates would cost between $12 billion and $14 billion, would help institutions meet President Obama’s goal for the United States to have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. It would do so by covering some costs of remediation and other support services for students who need extra help to remain in college and earn a degree. The 5.5-minute interview is available online at