President Barack Obama took aim Monday at the nation's school dropout epidemic, proposing $900 million to states and education districts that agree to drastically change or even shutter their worst performing schools.
Obama's move comes as many schools continue to struggle to get children to graduation, a profound problem in a rich, powerful nation. Only about 70 percent of entering high school freshmen go on to graduate. The problem affects blacks and Latinos at particularly high rates.
Obama described the crisis as one that hurts individual kids and the nation as a whole, shattering dreams and undermining an already hurting economy.
"There's got to be a sense of accountability," Obama said in announcing his latest get-tough school proposal at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The president's plan would seek to help 5,000 of the nation's lowest-performing schools over the next five years.
"In this kind of knowledge economy, giving up on your education and dropping out of school means not only giving up on your future, but it's also giving up on your family's future," Obama said. "It's giving up on your country."
Obama has been pushing schools — using federal money as his leverage — to raise their standards and prod them to get more children ready for college or work. It is a task that former President George W. Bush and Congress, along with many leaders before them, have long taken on, but the challenge is steep.
Obama's 2011 budget proposal includes $900 million for School Turnaround Grants. That money is in addition to $3.5 billion to help low-performing schools that was in last year's economic stimulus bill.
To get a share of the new money, states and school districts must adopt one of four approaches to fix their struggling schools:
- Turnaround Model: The school district must replace the principal and at least half of the school staff, adopt a new governance structure for the school, and implement a new or revised instructional program. In his remarks, Obama said a Rhode Island school that recently fired all its teachers is an example of how there needs to be accountability.
- Restart Model: The school district must close and reopen the school under the management of a charter school operator, a charter management organization or an educational management organization. A restarted school would be required to enroll, within the grades it serves, former students who wish to attend.
- School Closure: The school district must close the failing school and enroll the students in other, higher-achieving schools in the district.
- Transformational Model: The school must address four areas, including teacher effectiveness, instruction, learning and teacher planning time, and operational flexibility.
The administration also is putting $50 million into dropout prevention strategies, including personalized and individual instruction and support to keep students engaged in learning, and better use of data to identify students at risk of failure and to help them with the transition to high school and college.
Obama announced his plan Monday at an education event sponsored by the America's Promise Alliance, the youth-oriented organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma. Obama also planned to discuss ways to better prepare students for college and careers.