Obama Tackles High Dropout Rates, Targets 'Chronically Troubled' Schools

From Sunlen Miller:

Calling the dropout rate a "crisis" that the nation cannot afford to accept, or ignore, President Obama today announced plans for $900 million of grants that would be available to states and school districts.

"Not long ago you could drop out of high school and reasonably expect to find a blue-collar job that would pay the bills and help support your family. That's just not the case anymore," the president said at The America’s Promise Alliance Education event at the US Chamber of Commerce. "Graduating from high school is an economic imperative."

The President’s FY 2011 budget includes an extra boost of money for "School Turnaround Grants," but in order for a school to get these funds, states and school districts must choose among four reform models, in an attempt to change the lowest performing schools – which in some cases may call for the ouster of a principle, teachers, or a complete closure of an under-performing school.

The president’s plan will attempt to hone in on the 12% of American schools producing 50% of America’s dropout rates.

"Strategies like transforming schools from top to bottom, by bringing in a new principal and training teachers to use more effective techniques in the classroom; strategies like closing a school for a time and reopening it under new management, or even shutting it down entirely and sending its students to a better school; and strategies like replacing a school's principal and at least half of its staff."

The president mentioned the "chronically troubled" school in Rhode Island last week who laid off all the faculty and staff.

"Replacing school staff should only be done as a last resort," Obama said. "If a school's struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution. We've got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show any sign of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability.”

The president said that reform means more than just transforming lowest-performing schools – it also requires focusing on student’s performance from middle school through high school to track performance, keeping up students who may have fallen behind and making classrooms engaging.

In addition the president said that it’s not just about curbing dropout rates but also helping students prepare for college and their career.

"So government has a responsibility here. Government can help educate students to succeed in college and a career," the president said. "But as I've said before, education is not and cannot be the task of government alone."

The president was joined at the event today by Alma and Colin Powell, the former and current chair of The America’s Promise Alliance.

"I'm grateful for his friendship, for his counsel. And like so many Americans, I continue to be inspired by his leadership and by his life story," the president said of Colin Powell.

The president – who yesterday received the news during his routine physical that he had slightly higher cholesterol rates compared to his last physical -- decided to walk back from the US Chamber of Commerce to the White House. Asked about his health from the pool of reporters with him, the President attributed the rise to the presidential campaign of 2008.

"I want to make sure that I'm working off some of that cholesterol that's from a year of campaigning," he said strolling though Lafayette Park.

-Sunlen Miller

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