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Obama defends education initiative

Calling the status quo “morally inexcusable” and “economically indefensible,” President Obama defended his administration’s sweeping education initiative Thursday before an audience that has been among the most skeptical of the plan — the National Urban League.

“Education is an economic issue — if not the economic issue of our time,” Obama said at the organization’s centennial gathering in Washington. “We’ve got an obligation to lift up every child in every school in this country, especially those who are starting out furthest behind.”

This week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that 18 states and the District of Columbia had qualified as finalists in the second round of the administration’s Race to the Top program, aimed at rewarding states that make significant education reforms. States selected among these finalists will receive a combined $3.4 billion in grants, following $600 million already distributed in the program’s first round to Delaware and Tennessee.

But the program has been criticized by some traditional allies of the administration. The head of the Urban League, Marc Morial, was one of several civil rights leaders who met with Duncan earlier this week to discuss their concerns with the program — specifically that black and Latino students were not benefiting from the federal resources.

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Teacher unions have also objected to the program, which encourages evaluations.

Obama acknowledged the discord over the program, saying it reflects “a general resistance to change.”

“We get comfortable with the status quo even when the status quo isn’t good,” he said. “Our children get only one chance at an education, so we need to get it right.”

The program has already been successful even where federal dollars have not yet been spent, Obama told the audience. Thirty-two states have changed their education laws in an effort to qualify for the federal grants.

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“This process has sown the seeds of achievement,” Obama said. “It’s forced teachers and principals and officials and parents to forge agreements on tough and often uncomfortable issues — to raise their sights and embrace education.”

michael.memoli@latimes.com


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