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Obama pushes $1.35-billion expansion of education plan

President Obama, delivering a schoolhouse pitch for a $1.35-billion expansion of his signature education plan, promised Tuesday to “raise the bar” on what is expected of public school teachers and students.

“Nothing will make as much of a difference as the way we educate our sons and daughters,” Obama said after meeting with children at an elementary school in Falls Church, Va. “The countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and I refuse to let that happen on my watch.”

Under the administration’s Race to the Top program, states are competing for a share of $4.35 billion in federal funding aimed at spurring public schools to make student achievement the core of their programs. That potentially could include evaluating -- and paying -- teachers according to how well students perform.

The initial funding was included in the economic stimulus package Obama signed into law in February. Tuesday was the deadline for states to apply for that money.

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The president plans to include the additional $1.35 billion for the program in the fiscal 2011 budget, which he is due to propose next month. The extra funding would enable more states, as well as individual school districts, to apply for some of the money, the White House said.

Obama said Tuesday that the apparent popularity of the “national competition” was “a sign of how much states and schools believe this initiative will benefit them.”

By expanding the program, the president said, “we’re going to raise the bar for all our students and take bigger steps toward closing the achievement gap that denies so many students, especially blacks and Latinos, a fair shot at their dreams.”

Recipients of the first Race to the Top funds will be announced in April. A second round of applications from states that fail to win in the first round is due in June, with grants awarded in September.

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As a stage to promote expansion of the program, the White House chose Graham Road Elementary, one of the lowest-income yet highest-achieving schools in Virginia’s Fairfax County. Nearly 80% of its students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and 95% are African American or Latino. In 2008, the White House said, all of the school’s sixth-graders met Virginia’s reading standards, and 96% met its math standards.

Five years ago, Graham Road started a program aimed at boosting achievement that included tougher standards, testing, teacher evaluation and professional development.

The federal program encourages the design and implementation of “rigorous standards and high-quality assessments, by encouraging states to work jointly toward a system of common academic standards that builds toward college and career readiness,” the White House said.

It also is intended to attract and retain “great teachers and leaders in America’s classrooms,” with expanded support for teachers and principals and new methods of teacher evaluation and pay.

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mdsilva@latimes.com


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