05:37 PM EDT
Earlier today, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Wright Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin to spotlight one of the most exciting and innovative initiatives in education reform history: the Race to the Top Award. Designed to reward schools that take initiative to improve, the award provides grants—there is $4 billion on the table—to districts that demonstrate a commitment to advancement and higher standards. As he almost always does, he took some time to talk directly to the kids there about how invaluable education has been to both him and the First Lady: "So that's the reason why we are spending a lot of time talking to folks like you, because we want all of you to understand that there's nothing more important than what you're doing right here at this school." \
During his more formal remarks, the President discussed how the Race to the Top Award will make schools accountable to parents and students:
There's always excuses for why these schools can't perform. But part of what we want is an environment in which everybody agrees -- from the governor to the school superintendent, teachers, principals, and most importantly parents and students -- that there's no excuse for mediocrity. And we will take drastic steps when schools aren’t working. (Applause.)
So these are the kinds of vigorous strategies that are necessary to turn around our most troubled schools: transforming our lowest-performing schools; using timely information to improve the way we teach our children; outstanding teachers and principals in our classrooms and our schools that are getting the support they need; higher standards and better assessments that prepare our kids for life beyond a classroom. These are the challenges, the four challenges that states have to take up if they want to win a Race to the Top award.
And these are the four challenges that our country has to meet for our children to outcompete workers around the world, for our economy to grow and to prosper, and for America to lead in the 21st century.