WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday embraced a new approach to education that would reward good teachers, remove limits on charter schools and lengthen both the school day and the school year.
These proposals, which constitute the heart of Obama's vision of 21st century education reform, were sure to generate loud criticism, particularly from teacher union.
Educators oppose charter schools because they divert tax dollars away from traditional public schools. Merit-based systems for teachers have been anathema to the teacher unions, a powerful force in Obama's Democratic Party, for many years.
Obama acknowledged that some of his proposals would be unpopular with both parties.
"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, delivering the first major education speech of his presidency before a meeting of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance.''
But he argued that a far-reaching overhaul of the nation's education system is an economic imperative that can't wait despite the urgency of the financial crisis and other matters.
"Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us,'' he said. "The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream.''
The ideas Obama promoted were nearly all elements of his presidential campaign platform last year. He only barely mentioned the reauthorization of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, which introduced sweeping reforms that schools are struggling to meet without the funding to match. Obama said his administration would "later this year'' ensure that schools get the funding they need and that the money is conditioned on results.