Obama challenges lawmakers to strengthen education

“Let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country,” he said. “Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.”

Obama’s State of the Union address not only outlined his agenda for the coming year, but also highlighted his past accomplishments as he prepares to mount his reelection campaign. He touted his administration’s success in getting states to raise their standards just for the chance of earning additional funding through Race to the Top.

“For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning—the first time that’s happened in a generation,” he said.

But innovation “also demands basic research,” he said. “Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched. … Don’t gut these investments in our budget. Don’t let other countries win the race for the future. Support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.”

Read the portions of Obama’s speech that deal with education here.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement in response to the president’s speech:

“President Obama made crystal clear tonight that the health of our economy and the quality of our public education system always have been and always will be intertwined. … [He] also made clear tonight what America’s teachers have long understood: We can’t test our way to a middle class; we must educate our way to a middle class. The overemphasis on testing has led to narrowing of the curriculum, rather than creating a path to critical thinking and problem solving. These are the kinds of knowledge and skills our children need to compete in the global economy.”

Weingarten added: “Respecting public school teachers and providing them with the tools and resources they need to help our children learn and grow are essential to building a strong public education system, competing in a global economy, and restoring economic opportunity for all.”

The Democratic president’s vision of an activist government broke sharply with Republican demands for less government intervention to allow free enterprise. The stark differences will be evident in the White House’s dealings with Congress and in the presidential campaign over the next 10 months.

In the Republican response to the president’s address, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who once considered a White House bid, railed against what he called the “extremism” of an administration that stifles economic growth.

“No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant effort to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others,” Daniels said, speaking from Indianapolis. “As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat.”

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