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Obama pushes for education turnaround

Jim Kuhnhenn
Obama pushes for education turnaround
President Barack Obama greets students after speaking at TechBoston Academy in Boston, Tuesday, March, 8, 2011. (Photo: AP /Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

BOSTON — Arguing that good public education can thrive even in troubled neighborhoods, President Barack Obama showcased a school in a working-class Boston neighborhood Tuesday that turned around its graduation rate thanks to new flexibility for its leaders and plenty of help from private foundations.

Obama visited TechBoston Academy in Boston’s Dorcester neighborhood with philanthropist Melinda Gates in the latest stop on his month-long push for an education agenda aimed at garnering bipartisan support for more flexibility and accountability for teachers, and more innovative standards for students.

The quick trip also had a political subtext, like most things on the president’s agenda now that the 2012 election is approaching. Boston is a Democratic stronghold with a strong donor base and Obama was coupling his education speech with a dinner to raise money for House Democrats, who lost their congressional majority in the November midterm elections.

TechBoston, a grades 6-12 pilot school within the Boston school district, opened in 2002 with money from the foundation funded by Melinda Gates and her husband, Bill Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft Corp. It has made big strides academically through combined efforts of government, businesses, philanthropists and community groups.

Pointing to that success, Obama sought to cast public education as a joint effort by all sectors of society.

“Reforming education is the responsibility of every single American, every parent, every teacher, every business leader, every public official and, yes, every student,” he said.

And even as Democrats and Republicans clashed over budget cuts back in Washington, Obama emphasized that improving education takes money — though not only money. Noting that U.S. pupils are falling behind their counterparts other countries, Obama advocated for boosting spending on education even while making cuts in other areas.

What’s needed, the president said, is “more money and more reform.”

The president’s emphasis on money harkened back to the debates following passage of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind act, when Democrats in particular became disillusioned because they said the Bush administration never spent the money that would have been needed to make the law work.

By now both parties have come to agree that the law is overly prescriptive and should be changed, although it’s not clear Congress will have the appetite for a major education bill at a time when jobs, spending and the deficit are at the forefront.

Eager to plug his agenda beyond the Washington Beltway, Obama has been traveling once a week, often to political battleground states, to advocate for his policies. Last week he coupled an education event in Miami with a fundraiser for Democrats, making full use of his presidential power — and Air Force One — to blend a bit of policy with a bit of politics.

Associated Press