Obama Says Teachers, Not Snooki, Need to Be Idolized

From Sunlen Miller and Yunji de Nies

President Obama said today it should be teachers – not celebrities like Snooki – who should be idolized in this country.

“I want us to build a culture where we idolize the people who are shaping our children's future. I want some teachers on the covers of some of those magazines -some teachers on MTV,” Obama said today at the National Urban League Convention in Washington, D.C, “I was on "The View" yesterday, and somebody asked me who Snooki was. I say, ‘I don't know who Snooki is but I know some really good teachers that you guys should be talking about’.”

Continued Obama, “The question is, who are we lifting up? Who are we promoting? Who are we saying is important?””

In a major address on education reform in front of the National Urban League the president did just that, outline what is important for him to promote: education.

Mr. Obama took criticisms from the civil rights community and from teachers union head-on of his often controversial Race to the Top education program, which he chalked up to just a “general resistance” to change.

Speaking to the criticisms from the civil rights community – the National Urban League being among the groups vocal with concerns-- that Race to the Top doesn't do enough for minority children by creating a competition where some states and schools get more help than others, Obama said he understands, but disputes that concern.

“The charge that Race to the Top isn't targeted at those young people most in need is absolutely false, because lifting up quality for all our children -- black, white, Hispanic -- that is the central premise of Race to the Top,” he explained, “ And you can't win one of these grants unless you've got a plan to deal with those schools that are failing and those young people who aren't doing well. Every state and every school district is directly incentivized to deal with schools that have been forgotten, been given up on. “

The president also responded to the teachers unions, critical of the program for what they claim is unfairly penalizing teachers.

“The whole premise of Race to the Top is that teachers are the single most important factor in a child's education, from the moment they step into the classroom,” Obama assured the teachers in the crowd, “So for anyone who wants to use Race to the Top to blame or punish teachers, you're missing the point. Our goal isn't to fire or admonish teachers. Our goal is accountability. It's to provide teachers with the support they need, to be as effective as they can be, and to create a better environment for teachers and students alike. “

The president said that even as we applaud teachers for their hard work – schools have got to see results.

“If we're not seeing results in the classroom, then let's work with teachers to help them become more effective. If that doesn't work, let's find the right teacher for that classroom. “

On the controversy around the creation of national, common standards for education, that it violates the principle of local control, Obama praised the 30 states who have come together so far to develop standards.

“Instead of Washington imposing standards from the top down, let's challenge states to adopt common standards voluntarily from the bottom up,” Obama said, “That doesn't mean more standards. It means higher standards, better standards, standards that clarify what our teachers are expected to teach and what our children are expected to learn, so high school graduates are actually prepared for college and a career.”

The president said that “none of this should be controversial.”

He pledged to keep fighting for Race to the Top “with everything I’ve got” including using a veto to prevent watering down. Mr. Obama was alluding to the veto threat earlier this month of the $80 billion war funding bill if the final bill included proposed cuts in the Race to the Top program.

“I know there are some who say that Race to the Top won't work. There are cynics and naysayers who argue that the problems in our education system are too entrenched, that think that we'll just fall back into the same old arguments and divides that have held us back for so long. And it is true, as I've said since I ran for president and that everybody here knows firsthand, change is hard. I don't know if you've noticed. That's why I've got all this gray hair.”

-Sunlen Miller and Yunji de Nies

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