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The President on "Race to the Top"

Earlier today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told you about the launch of "Race to the Top," a competition for states to invest in school reforms that really work. The President spoke at the Department of Education today about the initiative, and reiterated his commitment to improving our education system.
In his remarks, the President explained that for too long we have simply talked about the problems of our education system, including overcrowded classrooms and crumbling schools. But now, the administration is ready to take action to reform our schools. The President recently announced the American Graduation Initiative to improve our community colleges, and now "Race to the Top" aims to improve the quality of education from kindergarten through senior year:
Because improving education is central to rebuilding our economy, we set aside over $4 billion in the Recovery Act to promote improvements in schools. This is one of the largest investments in education reform in American history. And rather than divvying it up and handing it out, we are letting states and school districts compete for it. That's how we can incentivize excellence and spur reform and launch a race to the top in America's public schools.
That race starts today. I'm issuing a challenge to our nation's governors, to school boards and principals and teachers, to businesses and non-for-profits, to parents and students: if you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments; if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom; if you turn around failing schools – your state can win a Race to the Top grant that will not only help students outcompete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential.
This competition will not be based on politics or ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group.  Instead, it will be based on a simple principle – whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best evidence available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform – and states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant. Not every state will win and not every school district will be happy with the results. But America's children, America's economy, and America itself will be better for it.
(President Barack Obama delivers remarks on "Race To the Top" at the Department of Education with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, left, in Washington, D.C. Friday, July 24, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
"Race to the Top" is a $4.35 billion fund that will reward eligible states for their accomplishments, and create incentives for future improvement in four areas: adopting rigorous standards and assessments, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, turning around low-performing schools, and establishing data systems to track student achievement and teacher effectiveness. The President explained that fixing our schools can’t just be done by Washington, and called on everyone to do their part:
Better standards. Better teaching. Better schools. Data-driven results. That's what we will reward with our Race to the Top Fund. But as I've said before, fixing the problem in our schools is not a task for Washington alone. It will take school administrators, board presidents, and local union leaders making collective bargaining a catalyst – and not an impediment – to reform. It will take business leaders asking what they can do to invest in education in their communities. It will take parents asking the right questions at their child's school, and making sure their children are doing their homework at night.
And it will take students – I'm not worried about Matthew, but all the other ones – (laughter) – including my daughters – showing up for school on time and paying attention in class. Ultimately, their education is up to them. It's up to their parents. It's up to their teachers. It's up to all of us.
I'll never forget a school I visited one day when I was a community organizer in Chicago. As I walked around the school with the principal, I remember saying to her how wonderful it was to see all these kids so full of energy and hope and the spark in their eye. And when he asked them what they were going to be when they grew up, they said, we're going to be doctors and lawyers and they all had these big dreams for the future. And I remember the principal saying that soon all that would change; that in a year or two, something would shut off inside as they began to realize their hopes wouldn't come to pass – not because they weren't smart enough, not because they weren't talented enough, but because they didn't see a pathway to success.
And that's true of too many children in this country. Maybe they don't have a great teacher. Maybe they don't find their classes exciting. Maybe they aren't being challenged at school. Maybe their parents aren't pushing them the way they need to. Maybe nobody is setting high expectations for them. Maybe they can't afford a college education. Maybe they don't know anybody who's ever gone to college. And the reason you're here, the reason Arne is here, the reason I'm here, is to make sure that we are giving all of those children, all our children, the pathways they need to make the most of their abilities; to make the most of their opportunities; to make the most of their lives.