Obama Visits Local School to Pitch Education Plan

Falls Church elementary school is backdrop for outline of education budget

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    President Barack Obama visited Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Va., Tuesday to talk to students and showcase his efforts to improve education.

    He held a discussion with sixth-graders about "Race to the Top," a program that offers grants to states and school districts that change their policies to emphasize performance.

    The class anxiously waited for his arrival.

    "Hey guys, hello!" the president said as he walked in.

    He shook hands with all the 30-odd students and said, "Good to see you."

    The president outlined his budget proposal while at the school. He plans to ask Congress for $1.35 billion to extend an education grant program for states.

    Getting schools right "will shape our future as a nation," Obama said.

    The president's $787 billion economic stimulus program included $4.3 billion for "Race to the Top." States must change education laws and policies to compete for a share of that money.

    More than 30 states are expected to apply for the grants. Today is the deadline. The Education Department is expected to announce its first two rounds of awards in April. Obama wants the extra $1.35 billion for states not chosen for these grants and for a similar competitive grant program for school districts.

    The "Race for the Top" program was designed to encourage states to rework their education systems and bring them more in line with the president's vision for education.

    "Offering our children an outstanding education is one of our most fundamental -- perhaps our most fundamental -- obligations as a country," Obama said in brief remarks. "Countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and I refuse to let that happen on my watch."

    With the grant programs, Obama is trying to make federal education spending more of a competitive endeavor to encourage states and school districts to do better, rather than a solely formula-driven effort in which states and districts look forward to receiving a certain amount of money each school year, regardless of how good a job they do educating students.

    To that end, Obama sees the use of student test scores to judge teacher performance and the creation of charter schools, which are funded with public money but operate independently of local school boards, as solutions to the problems that plague public education.

    National teachers' unions disagree. They argue that student achievement amounts to much more than a score on a standardized test and that it would be a mistake to rely heavily on charter schools.

    So far, more than a dozen states have changed laws or policies to link data on student achievement to the performance of teachers and principals, or pave the way for opening more charter schools.