U.S. students need to play catch-up, Obama says

Decrying shortcomings of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Obama on Monday pledged to make American students more competitive in the global economy by encouraging higher state standards for primary and secondary education.

Students in the United States lag by several crucial measures, Obama told a gathering of the nation’s governors at the White House, with eighth-graders ranking ninth in the world in math and 11th in science.

“In response to assessments like these, some states have upped their game,” Obama said, pointing to Massachusetts, where eighth-graders are tied for first in science around the world. “Some states have actually done the opposite, and between 2005 and 2007, under No Child Left Behind, 11 states actually lowered their standards in math.”

Speaking to the National Governors Assn., Obama announced steps to encourage and support states as they develop new standards for their students.

As a condition of receiving access to federal Title I funds, all states will be required to certify that their standards are designed to make pupils “college- and career-ready.” Title I grants are reserved to help disadvantaged students.

States with such standards in place will gain an edge in competing for other funds available to improve teaching and curriculum.

State officials are free to come up with their own standards, according to the Department of Education.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- the long-standing title of the basic federal education act, which the Obama administration prefers to the “No Child Left Behind Act” promoted by President George W. Bush -- won’t dictate particular standards.

A state that develops its own college-ready program would have to demonstrate, for example, that students who meet the standards can enter the state college system without taking remedial courses.

But state officials may choose to adopt standards already drafted by the governors association, administration officials say.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, the association’s chairman, said after the meeting that most states were interested in that option.

“Forty-eight states have signed on,” he said.

Obama told the governors that a mishmash of standards may make some states look better, but that is “not going to help our students keep up with their global competitors.”