Developing effective evaluation and support systems has been a central part of my administration’s work to strengthen the teaching profession. Our ESEA reauthorization proposal, Race to the Top initiative, School Improvement Grant program, and the Teacher Incentive Fund all support the development of strong systems of educator evaluation and support. Once fair, rigorous evaluations for teachers and school leaders are in place, they can serve as a foundation for connecting educator performance with differentiated professional development, compensation, and career advancement.

To support the preparation and development of successful teachers, we’ve also proposed setting aside 25 percent of Title II funds under No Child Left Behind (roughly $600 million) to improve teacher and school leader recruitment, preparation, and professional development. The set-aside would support programs that recruit talented candidates into the teaching profession and provide them with rigorous training to prepare them for high-need schools. It also would support programs that recruit and train principals and school leadership teams to turn around the lowest performing schools.

America cannot build a world-class education system without teachers in our classrooms. But cuts to education budgets nationwide put education jobs at risk. These cuts force states and districts into difficult decisions, including laying off teachers and other school personnel, overcrowding classrooms, reducing preschool and kindergarten programs, or even shortening the school week and year.

That’s why I’ve provided funding to keep hundreds of thousands of teachers on the job over the past three years, and I’ve pushed to prevent further layoffs from taking place. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enabled states and schools districts to keep approximately 300,000 educators on the job in the face of severe budget cuts caused by the recession. In 2010, I signed the Education Jobs Bill into law, giving states $10 billion in emergency funding to keep approximately 130,000 more educators in the classroom. I’ve also proposed another $25 billion investment in the coming year to make sure we can keep more teachers in the classroom.

Spurring school reform

Race to the Top marked a historic moment in American education. This initiative offers bold incentives to states willing to spur systemic reform to improve teaching and learning in America’s schools. Race to the Top has ushered in significant change in our education system, particularly in raising standards and aligning policies and structures to the goal of college and career readiness. Race to the Top has helped drive states nationwide to pursue higher standards, improve teacher effectiveness, use data effectively in the classroom, and adopt new strategies to help struggling schools.

As states move forward with education reforms, some provisions of No Child Left Behind—the most current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is long overdue for reauthorization—stand in the way of their progress. Although NCLB started a national conversation about student achievement, unintended consequences of NCLB have reinforced the wrong behaviors in trying to strengthen public education. NCLB has created incentives for states to lower their standards; emphasized punishing failure over rewarding success; focused on absolute scores, rather than recognizing growth and progress; and prescribed a pass-fail, one-size-fits-all series of interventions for schools that miss their goals.

In March 2010, my administration sent Congress a “Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” addressing the issues created by NCLB while pursuing high standards and closing the achievement gap. But because Congress has not acted to reauthorize ESEA, we’ve moved forward in giving states flexibility within the law—as authorized by provisions in the law itself—to pursue comprehensive plans to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, and improve the quality of teaching. To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have received ESEA flexibility.

We’ve also taken steps to spark innovation and build on the success of innovative programs that are working in schools. The Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund supports research-based programs that help close achievement gaps and improve outcomes for high-need students. The i3 program invests in innovative practices in school districts, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates.

These grants allow educational innovation to expand and develop, working in partnership with the private sector and the philanthropic community to identify and document best practices that can be shared and taken to scale based on demonstrated success. To date, $800 million in funding has been provided to more than 70 grantees to develop, validate, and scale up innovative reforms, with $150 million more available in the 2012 competition.