WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is pushing a rewrite of the nation's education laws, highlighting progress made at a Tennessee high school to argue that all schools can succeed given the right incentives.
As the school year draws to a close, Obama focused his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday on Memphis' Booker T. Washington High School, a school in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood where graduation rates have risen impressively in just three years. Obama delivered the commencement address there Monday after the school won a national competition to secure him as its speaker by demonstrating how it overcame challenges through innovations such as separate freshman academies for boys and girls.
"Booker T. Washington High School is no longer a story about what's gone wrong in education," the president said. "It's a story about how we can set it right.
"We need to encourage this kind of change all across America. We need to reward the reforms that are driven not by Washington, but by principals and teachers and parents. That's how we'll make progress in education — not from the top down, but from the bottom up."
Obama promoted his Race to the Top initiative, which has states compete for education money, though the program has drawn criticism and Republicans on Capitol Hill are unwilling to devote new money to it. He also renewed his call for Congress to send him a rewrite of No Child Left Behind, the nation's governing education law.
"We need to promote reform that gets results while encouraging communities to figure out what's best for their kids. That why it's so important that Congress replace No Child Left Behind this year — so schools have that flexibility," Obama said. "Reform just can't wait."
Although there's bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill that the inflexible, testing-heavy law needs to change, prospects for a rewrite this year don't seem bright, given that the economy, jobs and deficit are dominating the agenda. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said recently that a deadline Obama set in March for a redo of the law by September would be impossible to meet.
Republicans devoted their weekly address to talking about energy, with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas accusing the Obama administration of over-regulating and not doing enough to spur production at a time of $4-a-gallon gasoline. Obama last week directed his administration to ramp up U.S. oil production through measures including extending existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska's coast.
Hutchison complained the administration's policies remain too restrictive.
"Our country needs a long-term policy that provides energy from our own ample natural resources. We can provide a clean environment and affordable energy for our nation's families and businesses," Hutchison said. "It is not enough for the president to talk about producing energy in America. We call on him to put policies in place that cut the bureaucratic red tape and put Americans to work doing it."
Analysts and many lawmakers acknowledge there's little Washington can do that would have an immediate impact on gas prices.
Obama address: www.whitehouse.gov
GOP address: http://www.youtube.com/gopweeklyaddress
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