Q Hi. I’m Judy Loftus. I teach at Nashua South High School. (Applause.) I teach in the careers and education program, and that’s a career and technical program that prepares students for lives working — to work with children, to make a difference, from pre-school up to elementary age.
I have a couple of questions. First of all, what are you going to do about No Child Left Behind? We’ve had a lot of legacies from the last administration. And as an educator I’ve seen the impact of that in my school and it hasn’t been a positive impact. We’re focused more on testing and worrying about test scores than what’s right for kids. (Applause.)
And the second is, what are you going to do to help my students, who want to be teachers, who want to make a difference in this world, be able to afford a college education and not be saddled with so much debt that they’re working — as many teachers in Nashua are — two jobs, to make ends meet to pay their student loans? (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a good question. The short-term proposals that I put forward are designed to accelerate job growth, that inspire a company that’s right on the brink of hiring but it’s still kind of uncertain: Should I make that investment, should I bring in somebody out of the workforce? Well, maybe if I get a $5,000 credit or maybe if I can get a loan from SBA, I’m going to go ahead and take the plunge. So we’re trying to induce hiring to start a little quicker than it’s been — than has taken place so far.
But long term, the question you ask is the most vital one for how our economy performs. Look, this is a very straightforward proposition here. Countries that have a highly skilled workforce, that innovate, that excel in science and technology, are going to dominate the future. And countries that don’t are going to see, over time, their standard of living decline. It’s pretty straightforward. If we’re the country that’s innovating and creating new products and at the high end of the product chain, then everybody here is going to have enormous opportunity. And if we’re not, we don’t.
So what does that mean? On the education front, our elementary schools, our secondary schools, have been slipping. We used to have the best; now we have pockets of the best, and then we have mediocrity, and then we have some schools that are just terrible. We’ve got to make sure every child is getting a good, solid education. (Applause.) And what that means is, it means we continue to invest in early childhood education, which my budget does. It means — so that our kids are prepared when they start school. It means that we help schools with just their basic budgets. And as I said, the Recovery Act prevented a lot of layoffs and really patched holes in a lot of school budgets. It’s not sexy, it doesn’t get a lot of credit, but it made a huge difference.
We’ve got to make sure, though, also, that the single most important factor in an elementary and secondary school education is fulfilled, and that is, we’ve got excellent teachers in the classroom who are getting paid a good salary and are getting the support that they need. (Applause.)
Now, traditionally what’s happened is the debate between the left and the right has said, well, the left just says, we just need more money in the schools and everything will be okay — you know, it’s for new equipment, new computers, smaller class sizes. That’s been the argument on the liberal side. The conservative side has said, the whole problem is bureaucracy, teachers’ unions — you got to blow up the system. What my administration believes is, it’s not an either/or proposition, it’s both/and. We need more money, but we need to spend the money wisely and we need to institute reforms that raise standards and push everybody in a school — principal, teacher, student, parent — to pursue excellence.
So last year what we did is we started with something called Race to the Top, and it’s a pretty simple proposition. We carved out a little bit of money that doesn’t just go to general revenue — Title I, all the general federal support for schools — and we said, this money, this Race to the Top money, you get it only if you’re working to make for excellent teachers, you’re collecting good data to make sure that your students are actually making progress in the schools, you’re dealing with the lowest-performing schools in your school district. You’ve got ideas that are showing concrete results in improvement, not in absolute test scores, but in the progress that that school is making, we’re going to fund those improvements.
And we’ve already seen reforms across 48 states, just because we incentivized reform. That’s a good thing.
This year is when reauthorization for what’s called No Child [Left] Behind would be coming up, as part of the broader education legislation that’s up for reauthorization. And what we’re saying there is, on the one hand, we don’t want teachers just teaching to the test; on the other hand, we also want to keep high standards for our kids. And I think the best way to do that is to combine high standards, measurable outcomes, but have an assessment system that you work with teachers on so that it’s not just a matter of who’s filling out a bubble, and you’re also taking into account where do kids start, because not every kid is going to start at the same place. So you want to see where do they end up at the end of the year. (Applause.)
So I just — I just had a meeting with my team this week about this, trying to find ways that we can improve the assessment system so we’re still holding schools accountable, we’re still holding teachers accountable, but we’re not just holding them accountable for a score on a standardized test, but we have a richer way of assessing whether these schools are making progress.
All right, so that’s the answer to the No Child Left Behind.
On the college front, here’s the deal. We’ve already increased Pell grants, and we want to increase them again. (Applause.) We’ve already increased both the size of each grant that’s permissible, but also the number of grants available so more students can get to them. The next step — and this is legislation that’s pending that we are strongly supportive of and I think our entire congressional delegation from New Hampshire is strongly supportive of — what it would do is it would say to every student all across America, and this is especially important for somebody who wants to go into teaching — not a high-salary profession — that you will never have to pay more than 10 percent of your income on student loans. (Applause.) And to every student, we would say that after 20 years your debt would be forgiven as long as you were making payments commensurate with your income. But if you went into public service, we would forgive those student loans after 10 years. (Applause.) And teaching obviously is one of our most important public services.
So we think this is a fair deal because what is says is you won’t go bankrupt if you decide to go to college, but what it also says is you can make the choice for the lower salary but greater fulfillment, greater satisfaction pursuing your passion — you can do that and it’s not going to be cost-prohibitive.
Now, you may ask, how are we going to pay for it? Remember, we were — we said we’re going to pay for everything from here on out, pay as you go — PAYGO. Right? So here’s how we’re going to do it. It turns out that right now a lot of the student loan programs are still run through financial institu
tions and banks. So you got this middle man and they get billions of dollars per year managing loans that are guaranteed by the federal government. So think about this. You, the taxpayers, are guaranteeing that this is going to be paid back. These institutions are essentially taking no risks, and yet they’re still extracting these huge profits.
And what we’ve said is, look, cut out the middle man. You take those billions of dollars, give it directly to the students; with the money that we save, we can make sure that nobody goes bankrupt because they’re going to college, because we need every single person to go to college. We think it’s a good idea. We’re going to make it happen. (Applause.)
I chose this large excerpt because there are a number of teachers, former teachers, and school administrators who read and post here – AND – the need to change No Child Left Behind and improve the ability of our public schools to educate ALL our students will be critical to whether or not Massachusetts economy ever recovers.