Published March 10, 2009
WASHINGTON -- President Obama will propose tightening standards for teachers and reducing the dropout rate for students on Tuesday as part of an education plan that will leave the Bush-era policy of No Child Left Behind largely intact.
Officials said the president will save his suggested changes to No Child Left Behind until later this year when Congress votes to reauthorize the Bush-era education reform that set nationwide standards for math and reading proficiency.
"We are not calling for specific amendments to No Child Left Behind," a senior administration official told FOX News. "We are not calling for specific federal action."
Instead, Obama will suggest states broaden standards of proficiency beyond math and reading to cover "creativity" in ways to prepare children not just to graduate but for "college and career."
The president will also call for reforms to reduce high school drop out rates and to boost federal college aid through inflation-adjusted Pell Grants.
Administration officials also said Obama will press for merit pay for teachers, or so-called "innovative compensation schemes." As he did in the campaign, Obama will call on school districts to negotiate merit pay schedules with teachers and their union representatives.
Schools are struggling to meet the existing requirements as millions of residents have lost their jobs and state and local governments have seen tax revenues tighten. Obama's economic stimulus plan includes a $5 billion incentive fund to reward states for, among other things, boosting the quality of standards and state tests -- much-needed money for some states.
"I know that talking about standards can make people nervous," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently. But he said a high school diploma has to mean something, no matter in which state the student earned it.
Obama advisers say they will use the economic woes as a way to sell the country on his agenda. A second senior administration official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said higher standards would be part of their discussions about how to deal with Bush-era education policy, but not just yet.
White House aides characterized the president's speech on Tuesday as a first step in an agenda to change American schools. Aides say the president will again call for the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the year 2020, as well as pre-kindergarten programs that would send children to classrooms prepared to learn.
Obama also planned to continue his support for charter schools, although officials call them "laboratories of innovation." Educators' unions generally oppose charter schools because they divert tax dollars away from public schools, one spot where he splits with the traditionally Democratic Party-backing constituency.
Aides said Obama would not propose new spending during the speech, although he already has taken steps on education. His $787 billion economic stimulus package provides $41 billion in grants to local school districts. He also plans to send $79 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cuts in state aid and another $21 billion for school modernization.
FOX News' Major Garrett and the Associated Press contributed to this report.