President Barack Obama prodded states Monday to raise their school standards by using his best leverage: money.
Obama told governors he wants a change in law that would allow states to receive federal aid for poor students only if they adopt academic standards that are deemed to truly prepare children for college or careers out of high school.
The move would require a change in the nation's main elementary and secondary education law, which became known as the No Child Left Behind Act during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Traditionally, the federal government is a marginal player in the financing and control of education, but its role has expanded as educators and lawmakers at all levels worry about slipping U.S. competitiveness.
Many schools count on a key source of federal aid, known as Title I, to help out their poorest students. That's the money that Obama wants to make contingent upon the setting of more rigorous standards across the nation. It would remain up to states, not Washington, to choose their specific standards.
Many states are already working on a united effort to coordinate and improve their standards.
Yet Obama took a swipe at how some states responded to this challenge under No Child Left Behind, saying 11 states lowered their standards in math between 2005 and 2007.
"That may make those states look better relative to other states," Obama said, "but it's not going to help our students keep up with their global competitors."
Obama spoke to governors of both parties during their yearly gathering with the president at the White House.
The White House said the governors have been working on the president's Race to the Top program, which rewards school systems that raise standards and demonstrate commitment through tougher student assessments.
At the same time, the White House said that too many states are churning out graduates who are unprepared either for college or career.
In addition to supporting ongoing state efforts, the White House said the president will commit an additional $350 million to the Race to the Top challenge to back "state-led partnerships to develop new, state-of-the art assessments aligned to college and career-ready standards."
According to the White House, the president's 2011 budget will call for the reauthorization of the 1994 version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which would require states to meet six tough standards to help high school graduates prepare for college or jobs. The White House said schools need to focus on better teacher preparation, improved teaching and tougher student assessments.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was first passed in 1965 and has been routinely reauthorized every five years. Under the measure, federal money is sent to the states to pay for teacher development, instructional materials, educational resources and promotion of parental involvement.
Obama's reauthorization would:
- Require the states to "adopt and certify that they have college- and career-ready standards in reading and mathematics" to be eligible for the federal money.
- Establish a $405 million outlay to help states "align teacher preparation practices and programs to teaching of college- and career-ready standards."
- Provide grants totaling $400 million to states that adopt tougher student assessment programs.
- Dedicate $1.35 billion to the Race to the Top program in addition to stimulus money for the program.
- Allot $2.5 billion in the 2011 budget to a state grant program to support better teaching and leadership in the schools.