WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called for sweeping changes in American education Tuesday, urging states to lift limits on charter schools and improve the quality of early childhood education while also signaling that he intends to make good on his campaign promise of linking teacher pay to performance.
Obama used a speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to flesh out how he would use tens of billions in federal money and programs to influence policy at the state and local level.
He called for longer school days and school years and a greater effort to recruit promising candidates to the teaching profession, as well as a renewed commitment from parents to support their children's education.
His proposals reflected his party's belief that education at all levels was underfinanced in the Bush years and that reform should encompass more than demands that schools show improved test scores. But the proposals also showed a willingness to challenge teachers' unions and public school systems, and to continue to demand more accountability.
The president said it was time to erase limits on the number of charter schools, which his administration calls "laboratories of innovation," while closing those that are not working.
He called on states to impose tougher curriculum standards, and in an echo of language often used by President George W. Bush, he chided states he said were "low-balling expectations for our kids."
Obama said states and school districts should weed bad teachers out of classrooms. But he also pledged to pursue programs that would provide more incentives and support for teachers, and indicated that he would back a program in up to 150 school districts that would reward teachers "with more money for improved student achievement."
The speech built on recent remarks to a joint session of Congress, in which the president set a national goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.
The teacher-pay provision and his support for more charter schools could complicate Obama's ability to win support for his plan in Congress and in state legislatures, where teachers unions hold considerable sway with Democrats.
Union leaders reacted cautiously to the speech, saying they welcome the president's vision and goals.
Information from the Chicago Tribune was used in this report.