The progress that America is seeing in our nation’s education system—record-high high school graduation rates, improved student achievement and more young people going to college—is helping to fuel an economy that is stronger now than when President Obama took office during the Great Recession. The President delivered that message Thursday in a speech, fittingly, on a college campus—Northwestern University, outside of Chicago—and he encouraged continued commitment toward building an economy that works for every American and an education system that supports every student.
“We have to lead the world in education once again,” Obama said.
Here’s more of what the President had to say about education, and how it’s a cornerstone of the “new foundation” for America’s 21st century economy:
America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free. We sent a generation to college. We cultivated the most educated workforce in the world. But it didn’t take long for other countries to look at our policies and caught on to the secret of our success. So they set out to educate their kids too, so they could out-compete our kids. We have to lead the world in education once again.
That’s why we launched a Race to the Top in our schools, trained thousands of math and science teachers, supported states that raised standards for learning. Today, teachers in 48 states and D.C. are teaching our kids the knowledge and skills they need to compete and win in the global economy. Working with parents and educators, we’ve turned around some of the country’s lowest-performing schools. We’re on our way to connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed Internet, and making sure every child, at every seat, has the best technology for learning.
Look, let’s face it: Some of these changes are hard. Sometimes they cause controversy. And we have a long way to go. But public education in America is actually improving. Last year, our elementary and middle school students had the highest math and reading scores on record. The dropout rates for Latinos and African Americans are down. The high school graduation rate — the high school graduation rate is up. It’s now above 80 percent for the first time in history. We’ve invested in more than 700 community colleges — which are so often gateways to the middle class — and we’re connecting them with employers to train high school graduates for good jobs in fast-growing fields like high-tech manufacturing and energy and IT and cybersecurity.
Here in Chicago, [Mayor Rahm Emanuel] just announced that the city will pay community college tuition for more striving high school graduates. We’ve helped more students afford college with grants and tax credits and loans. And today, more young people are graduating than ever before. We’ve sent more veterans to college on the Post-9/11 GI Bill — including several veterans here at Northwestern — and a few of them are in this hall today, and we thank them for their service.
After celebrating the progress that America’s schools, colleges and universities are making, the President then set goals to further strengthen education as a pillar of the U.S. economy, starting with our youngest learners:
If we make high-quality preschool available to every child, not only will we give our kids a safe place to learn and grow while their parents go to work; we’ll give them the start that they need to succeed in school, and earn higher wages, and form more stable families of their own. In fact, today, I’m setting a new goal: By the end of this decade, let’s enroll 6 million children in high-quality preschool. That is an achievable goal that we know will make our workforce stronger.
If we redesign our high schools, we’ll graduate more kids with the real-world skills that lead directly to a good job in the new economy. If we invest more in job training and apprenticeships, we’ll help more workers fill more good jobs that are coming back to this country. If we make it easier for students to pay off their college loans, we’ll help a whole lot of young people breathe easier and feel freer to take the jobs they really want. So look, let’s do this — let’s keep reforming our education system to make sure young people at every level have a shot at success, just like folks at Northwestern do.