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Published: Friday, 7/24/2009

Obama offers contest for US schools


WASHINGTON Using money as bait, President Barack Obama challenged U.S. states and school districts Friday to raise their academic standards, improve teacher quality and allow more innovation if they want a chance at roughly $5 billion in new grants.

Along with health care and righting the recession-hit economy, education reform is another of Obama's first term domestic priorities.

Obama said the broad goals are to give every child a chance to succeed and to boost the educational foundation of the nation's economy. Yet the "Race to the Top" program is also specifically targeted at expanding reforms the administration wants, such as linking teacher pay to how well students do on tests.

"This competition will not be based on politics or ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group," Obama said in an appearance at the Education Department. "Instead, it will be based on a simple principle: whether a state is ready to do what works."

The president added: "Not every state will win and not every school district will be happy with the results. But America's children, America's economy, America itself will be better for it."

Obama said the states and districts that apply for money will be evaluated by clear criteria, with rewards going to those that adopt strong standards and common tests; that get high-quality teachers in the classroom; and that allow expansions of charter schools, which are public schools that operate with more independence. He endorsed the idea of linking student achievement to teacher pay a hotly debated idea in education but said it should be just one factor in compensation.

As he has with other domestic priorities, Obama said reforming education has been talked about without enough action for years.

Speaking of the need to improve academics nationwide, he said: "We have no choice. And I'm absolutely confident that we can make it happen."

The $5 billion education fund, part of the economic stimulus law enacted this year, is seen as Obama's shot at revamping schools over the next couple of years.

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