Obama challenges lawmakers to strengthen education

"I intend to fight obstruction with action," the president said.

In a State of the Union address that was as much a campaign speech as a call to action, President Obama touted his administration’s success in spurring school reform and challenged lawmakers to build on this success by investing more in education and research to “prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Facing a deeply divided Congress, Obama appealed for lawmakers to send him legislation on a host of issues, including education, clean energy, housing, and immigration reform—knowing full well the election-year prospects are bleak but aware that polls show the independent voters who lifted him to the presidency crave bipartisanship.

The president contrasted the selflessness and teamwork of the American troops who took out Osama Bin Laden with the gridlock that exists in Congress.

“Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example,” he told a packed chamber and tens of millions of Americans watching in prime time on Jan. 24. “Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. … An economy built to last, where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded.”

Later, he said: “I intend to fight obstruction with action.” House Republicans greeted his words with stony silence.

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

Attempts to rewrite the 10-year-old No Child Left Behind law are one example of how Congress has been unable to reach an agreement, despite widespread consensus on the need for reform. Several bills addressing NCLB have stalled in Congress.

Obama talked about the value of good teachers and called on policy makers to stop “bashing them.” He offered lawmakers a deal: More resources to help teachers succeed, in exchange for more flexibility to help schools “replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

The president also suggested that states pass laws requiring students to stay in school until age 18 or when they graduate, and he called on colleges to end “skyrocketing” tuition costs. If they don’t, he suggested that federal funding to colleges may go down—though he didn’t offer specifics.

Obama said his administration has “put more boots on the border than ever before,” resulting in “fewer illegal crossings.” But he asked Congress to create a path to citizenship for children who come to the United States with their undocumented parents if they complete college.

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