Read all posts from March 2010

  • If there's one thing better than meeting new folks on the road, it's meeting new folks out on the road and having them cook you up some of the best food in the country.  So it was when the President sat down with some of the regulars at the famous Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House restaurant in Savannah, Georgia today.  They were polite enough to offer not to ask him any questions so he could relax, an offer he jokingly declined: "How often you gonna have lunch with the President? Might as well ask some questions."

    Download Video: mp4 (56MB)


  • In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, the First Lady read “The Cat in the Hat” aloud at the Library of Congress during the National Education Association’s Read Across America event. She was joined by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, and students who all sported red and white hats like the cat from the book. Dr. Seuss would have been proud.

    First Lady Celebrates Dr. Seuss' Birthday

    First Lady Michelle Obama reads "Cat in the Hat" during the Read Across America event, in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., March 2, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

    You can learn more about Dr. Seuss and classic children's tales by visiting the Seussville website.

  • Education in FocusAt we’re always looking for new ways to engage with citizens, whether it’s through a live video chat with a policy expert or an Open for Questions event with the President. As an extension of the Administration’s commitment to making government more collaborative and participatory, we’re trying something new this week. The White House will pose a question to our more than 480,000 fans on Facebook, 1.7 million followers on Twitter and 30,000 group members on LinkedIn. Later in the week, we’ll highlight some of the most interesting responses on the White House blog.

    As part of this week’s “Education in Focus” series, the White House asks:

    What does a 21st century education mean to you?

    So, tell us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. We look forward to your responses and want to give a hat tip to @GOOD for a good idea.

    [Update: We’ve received a tremendous response and will be posting several of your ideas on a 21st century education soon. Please note that the username, personal identifier or icon affiliated with responses may be posted on the White House blog.]

  • Earlier today, after touring Savannah Tech, President Obama announced the initiatives for HOMESTAR, a program that offers incentives for people to make their homes more energy-efficient.

    The President explained that the new program will save families several hundred of dollars on utilities, make the economy less dependent on fossil fuels, create work for small businesses and contractors, and bring back construction jobs.

    Here's one of the best things about energy efficiency - it turns out that energy-efficient windows or insulation, those things are products that are almost exclusively manufactured right here in the United States of America.  It's very hard to ship windows from China. So a lot of these materials are made right here in America.

    President Obama Greets Workers in Savannah 03.02

    President Barack Obama stops to greet workers as he tours the Chatham Steel Company in Savannah, Ga., March 2, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    Through the HOMESTAR Program, homeowners who make investments for energy-efficiency in their homes will be eligible to receive:

    • Direct rebates for energy-saving investments
    • 50 percent rebates for the cost of each upgrade up to $1500
    • Rebates up to $3000 for those who choose to retrofit their whole homes
    • Guaranteed quality installations through quality assurance providers who would conduct field audits after work is completed
    • Support for financing through State and local governments

    President Obama explained that these short-term investments will lead to long-term savings for homeowners and consumers.

    Just like a responsible homeowner will invest in their homes in the near term to fortify their economic security in the long term, we’ve got to do the same as a country.  It will have some costs on the front end -- you buy a new boiler, or you get some insulation, or you get some new windows, that's going to have an initial cost, and the same is true from a government perspective.  And it’s going to be politically difficult to do some of this, but it’s what’s right to plan for our future. 

  • Have a look at some raw footage we got back from the President's trip to Savannah, shot just a few hours ago:

    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.


    The President spoke at the college on his proposal for the Homestar Energy Efficiency Retrofit Program soon afterwards.

    UPDATE: Bonus hanging-out photo from the photo office:

    Lunch in Savannah

    President Barack Obama sits down for lunch with other customers during a stop at Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room in Savannah, Ga. March 2, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

  • Ed. Note: Learn more about the Administration's Cybersecurity efforts on our Cybersecurity page.

    Today in my keynote speech at the RSA Conference in San Francisco I discussed two themes that are vital to our nation’s cybersecurity efforts:  partnerships and transparency.  These two themes go hand-in-hand.  You cannot have one without the other, and they form the foundation of nearly all of the action items outlined in the President’s Cyberspace Policy Review.

    Howard A. Schmidt at RSA Conference

    Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard A. Schmidt makes a point during his keynote speech at the RSA Conference in San Francisco on March 2, 2010. March 2, 2010. (by Steve Maller Photography)

    Earlier this year in a memorandum on open government to all Federal departments and agencies, President Obama said, “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”  Building on this statement, I am personally dedicated to ensuring that the Federal Government’s cybersecurity efforts are as transparent as possible.

    For this reason, I was pleased to announce today that the Obama Administration has revised the classification guidance for the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (or CNCI), which began in 2008 and forms an important component of cybersecurity efforts within the federal government.  Anyone can now view or download an unclassified description of the CNCI and each of the 12 initiatives under the CNCI.

    Transparency is particularly vital in areas, such as the CNCI, where there have been legitimate questions about sensitive topics like the role of the intelligence community in cybersecurity.  Transparency provides the American people with the ability to partner with government and participate meaningfully in the discussion about how we can use the extraordinary resources and expertise of the intelligence community with proper oversight for the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

    In order to be successful against today’s cybersecurity threats, we must continue to seek out innovative new partnerships—not only within government, but also among industry, government, and the American public.  Transparency improves our collective knowledge and helps bind our partnerships together to form the most powerful cyber tools that we have.  We will not defeat our cyber adversaries because they are weakening, we will defeat them by becoming collectively stronger, through stronger technology, a stronger cadre of security professionals, and stronger partnerships. 

    Howard A. Schmidt is Special Assistant to the President and the Cybersecurity Coordinator

  • This morning, economist Edward Glaeser wrote a blog post over at the NYT charging that Recovery Act spending isn’t going where it’s needed most.  Based on a subset of Recovery Act spending, he claims that per capita spending in a state is actually negatively correlated with the state’s unemployment rate – in other words, the higher the unemployment rate in the state, the less money it gets per person.

    He’s wrong about that.  Not only does he leave out a major chunk of Recovery Act spending, but the chunk he leaves out includes the programs that are targeted most directly at unemployment.   When you put those data back in, as we do below, you get a correct sense of the extent to which the Act is effectively targeting people and places that need help.

    Glaeser’s blog post is based on data reported by direct recipients of Recovery Act, which only covers certain programs—those in which the Recovery Act makes a grant or gives a contract or loan to an entity that will perform a project, like fixing a bridge.

    But the chunk he leaves out includes payments that go straight to individuals in need.   Since his targeting measure is unemployment, the most important omission here is the increased Unemployment Insurance payments that the Recovery Act provided – tens of billions of dollars of aid that have provided a crucial lifeline to more than 20 million unemployed workers during this downturn.  

    He also leaves out major aid to states through the Medicaid system, which has helped prevent layoffs of teachers and other public servants across the country – and which, by the way, was distributed based on a formula that explicitly considers a state’s unemployment rate (such data are publicly available here).

    Lo and behold, when you actually look at the entire Recovery Act, the negative correlation Professor Glaeser complains about disappears.   This is, of course, no surprise – if you leave out the Recovery Act programs that are targeted at economic hardship, the Recovery Act will look to be poorly targeted.  And by the way, these programs account for over $120 billion in funds put to work so far, so we’re not talking small change here.

    Here is the very different picture you get when you  look at these targeted programs  – expanded unemployment insurance, aid to states through the Medicaid system, food stamps, emergency grants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy family system, job training, and youth summer employment:

    State Recovery Act Spending and Unemployment Rates

    And then there’s another side of this story.   As the figure shows, the programs that are targeted at unemployment are doing their job.  But not every program in the Recovery Act is intended to send money the states with the highest unemployment rates. 

    In fact, that’s why the package is called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – it’s designed not just to get aid to those who need it most, but to make investments that will help lay the foundation for robust, sustainable growth in the future.

    The Recovery Act cannot meet the vision of the President and Vice President if we were to limit it solely to projects in states with higher than average unemployment.   Throughout the country, it must make key investments in infrastructure, including not just roads and bridges but transit, high-speed rail, broadband, clean energy, and the smart grid.  And even when it comes to good, old-fashioned roads and bridges, those investments have to be made where they’re needed, not just wherever unemployment is the highest. 

    Glaeser raises perfectly valid and important points about making sure our investment decisions are smart ones, not driven by politics or outdated formulas.  And that’s what we’re trying to do here.  When it comes to both recovery and reinvestment, the Act is hitting the target.

    Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President, and Executive Director of the Middle Class Task Force

  • Last Thursday the President hosted a unique, open conversation with leaders from both parties in Congress to hear everyone's ideas about how to finally put American families and small businesses in control of their health care.

    The President brought a proposal to the table, which included many Republican ideas that have been incorporated over the past year, and asked Republicans to bring their proposals as well.

    The meeting, which lasted most of the day, provided a forum for enlightening discussion and ideas which the President has been considering seriously in the days since.  Today the President wrote to Democratic and Republican Leadership to relay his reflections on the meeting along with even more Republican ideas he believes are worth exploring further as part of the final health reform package that he signs:

    March 2, 2010     

    Dear Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, and Representative Boehner:

    Thank you again for the time, energy, and preparation you invested in last Thursday’s bipartisan meeting on health insurance reform. I have always believed that our legislative process works best when both sides can discuss our differences and common goals openly and honestly, and I’m very pleased that our meeting at Blair House offered the American people and their elected representatives a rare opportunity to explore different health reform proposals in extraordinary depth.

    The meeting was a good opportunity to move past the usual rhetoric and sound-bites that have come to characterize this debate and identify areas on which we agree and disagree. And one point on which everyone expressed agreement was that the cost of health care is a large and growing problem that, left untended, threatens families, businesses and the solvency of our government itself.

    I also left convinced that the Republican and Democratic approaches to health care have more in common than most people think.

    For example, we agree on the need to reform our insurance markets. We agree on the idea of allowing small businesses and individuals who lack insurance to join together to increase their purchasing power so they can enjoy greater choices and lower prices. And we agree on the dire need to wring out waste, fraud and abuse and get control of skyrocketing health care costs.

    But there were also important areas of disagreement. There was a fundamental disagreement about what role the oversight of the health insurance industry should play in reform. I believe we must insist on some common-sense rules of the road to hold insurance companies accountable for the decisions they make to raise premiums and deny coverage. I don’t believe we can afford to leave life-and-death decisions about health care for America’s families to the discretion of insurance company executives alone.

    No matter how we move forward, there are at least four policy priorities identified by Republican Members at the meeting that I am exploring. I said throughout this process that I’d continue to draw on the best ideas from both parties, and I’m open to these proposals in that spirit:

    1. Although the proposal I released last week included a comprehensive set of initiatives to combat fraud, waste, and abuse, Senator Coburn had an interesting suggestion that we engage medical professionals to conduct random undercover investigations of health care providers that receive reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid, and other Federal programs.
    2. My proposal also included a provision from the Senate health reform bill that authorizes funding to states for demonstrations of alternatives to resolving medical malpractice disputes, including health courts. Last Thursday, we discussed the provision in the bills cosponsored by Senators Coburn and Burr and Representatives Ryan and Nunes (S. 1099) that provides a similar program of grants to states for demonstration projects. Senator Enzi offered a similar proposal in a health insurance reform bill he sponsored in the last Congress. As we discussed, my Administration is already moving forward in funding demonstration projects through the Department of Health and Human Services, and Secretary Sebelius will be awarding $23 million for these grants in the near future. However, in order to advance our shared interest in incentivizing states to explore what works in this arena, I am open to including an appropriation of $50 million in my proposal for additional grants. Currently there is only an authorization, which does not guarantee that the grants will be funded.
    3. At the meeting, Senator Grassley raised a concern, shared by many Democrats, that Medicaid reimbursements to doctors are inadequate in many states, and that if Medicaid is expanded to cover more people, we should consider increasing doctor reimbursement. I’m open to exploring ways to address this issue in a fiscally responsible manner. 
    4. Senator Barrasso raised a suggestion that we expand Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). I know many Republicans believe that HSAs, when used in conjunction with high-deductible health plans, are a good vehicle to encourage more cost-consciousness in consumers’ use of health care services. I believe that high-deductible health plans could be offered in the exchange under my proposal, and I’m open to including language to ensure that is clear. This could help to encourage more people to take advantage of HSAs.

    There are provisions that were added to the legislation that shouldn’t have been. That’s why my proposal does not include the Medicare Advantage provision, mentioned by Senator McCain at the meeting, which provided transitional extra benefits for Florida and other states. My proposal eliminates those payments, gradually reducing Medicare Advantage payments across the country relative to fee-for service Medicare in an equitable fashion (page 8). My proposal rewards high-quality and high-performing plans.

    In addition, my proposal eliminates the Nebraska FMAP provision, replacing it with additional federal financing to all states for the expansion of Medicaid.

    Admittedly, there are areas on which Republicans and Democrats don’t agree. While we all believe that reform must be built around our existing private health insurance system, I believe that we must hold the insurance industry to clear rules, so they can’t arbitrarily raise rates or reduce or eliminate coverage. That must be a part of any serious reform to make it work for the many Americans who have insurance coverage today, as well as those who don’t.

    I also believe that piecemeal reform is not the best way to effectively reduce premiums, end the exclusion of people with pre-existing conditions or offer Americans the security of knowing that they will never lose coverage, even if they lose or change jobs.

    My ideas have been informed by discussions with Republicans and Democrats, doctors and nurses, health care experts, and everyday Americans – not just last Thursday, but over the course of a yearlong dialogue. Both parties agree that the health care status quo is unsustainable. And both should agree that it’s just not an option to walk away from the millions of American families and business owners counting on reform.

    After decades of trying, we’re closer than we’ve ever been to making health insurance reform a reality. I look forward to working with you to complete what would be a truly historic achievement.


  • Download Video: mp4 (439MB) | mp3 (32MB)

    Education in Focus

    I was taught at an early age about the importance and value of a high-quality education to getting ahead in life.  Both of my parents are educators.  They were the first in their families to attend college.  In addition to the values and of hard work and service that they inspired in me, their examples are what motivated me to continue my education and earn a college degree.

    The path toward a college degree is one that should be afforded to every American.  Moreover, promoting college access and success is critical to the future of our economy.  While America ranks seventh in the proportion of young people enrolled in college, we rank fifteenth in the number of certificates and degrees awarded.  And while high school graduates from our wealthiest families are almost certain to continue on to higher education, just over half of students in the poorest bottom quarter attend college.

    Since arriving in office, the President has made providing a complete and competitive education to all students a national priority.  He has called to restore America’s leadership in higher education, with a historic commitment to increase college access and success and a challenge for America to again lead the world with the highest proportion of college graduates by the year 2020. 

    To accomplish this goal, the President’s plan would dramatically expand financial aid for America’s college-going students, and restructure our student aid programs to make them simpler, more efficient, and more reliable.  The cornerstone of the President’s agenda is a plan to shore up and restore the buying power of the Pell Grant – a ticket of opportunity for America’s neediest students – placing it on a path to outpace the rate of inflation each year.  The President has proposed the American Graduation Initiative, a comprehensive plan to strengthen an support America’s community colleges.  He has focused on giving America’s students the support they need to graduate once they reach college, through new investments to expand innovation and build the knowledge base of successful college completion activities and strategies, at both 2-year and 4-year institutions.  The President’s plan would help more students learn and earn college credit through new, high-quality online learning opportunities, and it would simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to make it easier for young people and their families to apply for student aid.  The President’s budget also supports our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other higher education institutions serving America’s minority communities. 

    All of these reforms are included in the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), a legislative proposal passed last year by the U.S. House of Representatives and currently pending in the United States Senate.  One of the most impressive features of the President’s higher education plan is that it pays for itself. 

    Here’s how.  Right now, there are two arms to the federal student loan program – the Direct Loan program and the Federal Family Educational Loan program, or FFEL.  Direct loans are originated by the U.S. Department of Education and services through competitively-awarded contracts with the private sector.  Under the FFEL program, banks front the capital and taxpayers pay them a subsidy to do so.  The President’s proposal shifts student lending entirely over to Direct Loans, ending billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies to banks and saving $87 billion over 10 years.  These subsidies are a price we cannot afford to pay in today’s economy.  Through this reform, we can put students, not banks, first, and reinvest funding in helping more students reach and successfully complete college.

    Today at 5:30PM EST, White House Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes and Education Secretary Arne Duncan will host an online video chat with students from all across America to discuss the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA).  I’d like to invite you to join that web chat and would encourage you to come prepared with questions for our speakers.  Throughout his life, President Obama has fought to make college more affordable for all students.  SAFRA is an essential first step in reaching that goal.

    Roberto Rodriguez is Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy

  • Education in FocusThis morning Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared on NBC's "Today" show and MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" to discuss the President’s Race to the Top education program and to remind high schools across the country to participate in the President’s Commencement Challenge.

    I don’t know about you but I can’t remember who my high school commencement speaker was, and this is gonna be just an absolutely memorable day for whichever high school wins. This is a Race to the Top Commencement Challenge. The President’s asking every high school to put their best foot forward and demonstrate what they’re doing to make sure every student graduates from high school, college and career ready. He’s committed to doing this every single year.

    The applications are due March 15th, in less than two weeks and so we expect many, many high schools around the country to submit. Whether it’s their essays in applications or video presentation and we look forward to a very,very vigorous competition, the public’s gonna help us decide. We want every high school to demonstrate what they’re doing to give every child a chance to be successful and fulfill their tremendous academic potential.

    Secretary Duncan also commended the President’s 900 million dollar grants directed towards improving low performing schools across the country and his bipartisan commitment to improving public education and decreasing the high school dropout rate.

    We have a drop out crisis. It is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable, and the President yesterday I thought showed real courage. Alma Powell, Colin Powell, this is an absolute bipartisan effort. All of us have to work together to give every child in this country a chance to be academically successful.

    Secretary Duncan will be participating in a live chat with Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes on making college more affordable today at 5:30 pm EST. Watch live and ask him your questions about student loans, Pell Grants, and improving the federal loan application process.

  • Education in FocusToday in Washington, we're hosting the first-ever ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.  We're bringing together some of our nation's brightest minds in science, engineering, and business to focus on tackling the energy problem.  Through the ARPA-E program, we are funding cutting-edge technologies that could provide game-changing breakthroughs.  We're trying to hit home runs, not base hits.

    This video showcases one of the projects we funded in the first round of applications: Sun Catalytix.  Sun Catalytix is developing a unique technology that mimics photosynthesis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.  Check it out:

    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.


    Steven Chu is Secretary of Energy

  • Education in FocusAs part of our "Education in Focus" program this week, we're happy to host Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes for a live video chat on making college more affordable.  In particular, they’ll be discussing the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act and Obama Administration's efforts to reform student lending.

  • The Vice President is now accepting applications to the United States service academies online. Starting today, potential Cadets and Midshipmen will be able to apply through a more efficient, paperless process. The Vice President is authorized to nominate individuals to the United States Military, Naval, and Air Force Academies, and is the only nominating authority who can nominate U.S. citizens without geographical restrictions.

    For additional information, and to apply online, visit the Vice President’s website.
    Kevin Westberg works in the Military Aides Office in the Office of the Vice President

  • I’m happy to announce that today we launch the White House Urban Affairs website. This effort is an important addition to our ongoing conversation on the Future of America’s Cities and Metropolitan Areas. We have already met with many urban stakeholders, elected officials, and academics; and we’ve been around the country visiting places that are on the cutting edge of urban innovation. But today we are establishing a more direct relationship with you - the American people. You are the ones that are innovating every single day – you are the innovators. You tackle government bureaucracy with creativity and leadership; you overcome a slow economy with public-private partnerships; and you turn distressed neighborhoods around with determination, hope and, above all, hard work.

    The President knows that government doesn’t have all the answers. He knows that the best solutions come from you in places like Auburn Gresham in Chicago, South Lake Union in Seattle, and the small city of Flagstaff, Arizona - just to name a few. We know there are many more out there and we want you to share them with us.

    This website is guided by the principles articulated in the President’s Executive Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government:

    • Transparency promotes accountability;
    • Participation strengthens decisions; and,
    • Collaboration enables other to help.

    Here’s how the website works: on our Initiatives page, you get a glimpse of the work we are doing to align Federal urban policy, like our Urban Tour and our Inter-Agency working group on urban policy. At our Innovation and Ideas page, you’ll have a chance to submit your ideas and best practices. And of course, you can find my staff and I blogging on the work that we’re doing, and you can learn more about our office in the About Us section.

    In the coming weeks and months we will continue to update and improve our site so that we are able to have a productive and efficient conversation on the Future of America’s Cities and Metros.

    Adolfo Carrión, Jr is the Director of the Office of Urban Affairs and Deputy Assistant to the President

  • Education in FocusEd. Note: Watch a video of Secretary Salazar talking with the students from Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary School about their favorite outside activities.

    Growing up on a ranch in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, my parents taught me and my seven brothers and sisters that our way of life depended on the health of the lands, waters, and wildlife around us.  Though we had no television, electricity, or telephones on our ranch, the beauty of our surroundings and our experiences in the great outdoors enriched our lives.

    Today, however, Americans are losing touch with the land, water, and wildlife that sets our nation apart. Children spend half as much time outside as their parents did. That means less time fishing and swimming, hunting and hiking, camping and exploring. This trend is one that we can and must reverse by helping young Americans get outdoors and reconnect with the places that make our country so special.

    Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss this important issue with a fourth grade class at Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary School in Washington, D.C.  We talked about the outdoors, conservation, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle. I am always so encouraged by the enthusiasm and sprit of our nation’s young people, and this class was no exception. Taught by Teach for America corps member Will Harman, the student’s were eager to learn more about protecting our natural and cultural heritage.

    Secretary Ken Salazar at Teach for America Event at Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary School

    Secretary Salazar calls on 4th grade students at Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary School February 26, 2010. (by Tami A. Heilemann-DOI)

    With the enthusiasm of young people like those at Bruce Monroe at Parkview Elementary School, and with new initiatives to encourage young people to get outdoors, we can help reconnect Americans to the places they love. That’s why at the Department of the Interior we  are expanding our efforts to educate the next generation of conservationists and community leaders. Our parks, refuges and Interior programs throughout the nation offer opportunities for youth to learn about our lands, our waters, and our cultural heritage. These programs turn Interior lands into outdoor laboratories where students and teachers can experience firsthand the science lessons they learn in the classroom. 

    To learn more about Interior’s youth programs, click here.  I look forward to seeing you in America’s great outdoors.

    Ken Salazar is Secretary of the Interior

  • On Wednesday, February 17th, on the one-year anniversary of the Recovery Act, I had the pleasure to help celebrate and support recovery from addiction at the opening of a transitional residential program for women in Knoxville, Tennessee. The program, which received money from a grant made possible by the Recovery Act, will help approximately 45 women each year coming from incarceration to rebuild their lives.

    The program, The Next Door, is modeled after The Next Door in Nashville, which has assisted over 600 women transition back to their communities since it opened in May 2004.

    Having visited The Next Door in Nashville on the first official trip I made outside of the beltway in May 2009 and learned about the program’s success rate in reducing recidivism, it was especially welcome to see how federal funds were helping to replicate the model in another community.

    I also enjoyed reconnecting with some of the remarkable women I met in May. For example, Ramie Siler, Case Manager/Alcohol & Drug Specialist at The Next Door Nashville, told me that her daughter, the inspiration for her own personal recovery, would soon graduate from college. The experiences of new friends proved to be as stirring. One story told by The Next Door Knoxville’s house monitor related the challenges she went through to reopen a bank account and the communication skills and new-found confidence The Next Door program nurtured that helped her triumph. It was also heartening to see the generous support from the city and county of Knoxville for the program - from law enforcement and the drug court to the warm and talented volunteers who created such a beautiful temporary home for residents.

    Services provided by The Next Door include housing, recovery support services, and workforce development. The structured curriculum provides job preparation, readiness, communication skills, and conflict management to support retention and career planning. In 2009, 107 out of 143 clients of The Next Door in Nashville received employment.

    Reentry programs like The Next Door break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration, reunite families, and make recovery possible for Americans, key focuses of the soon-to-be released Obama Administration's National Drug Control Strategy.

    Gil Kerlikowske is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

  • Education in FocusToday, I joined President Obama and Colin Powell to reaffirm our strong commitment to addressing the graduation crisis in America's high schools -- learn more about that from the White House fact sheet.  America’s prosperity in the 21st century rests on how well we prepare our children for success in college and in the workplace.  Because economic progress and educational achievement go hand in hand, educating every American student to graduate prepared for college and for success in a new workforce is a national imperative.

    That’s why the President set a goal for America: by 2020, this nation will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

    In a feature this week called “Education in Focus,” will highlight the Department of Education’s events and initiatives to meet this goal.

    Every day, we'll feature different sections of our agenda. Today, we're featuring the Grad Nation event.  Tomorrow, I will join Melody Barnes for a live video chat about our efforts to make college affordable and accessible. On Thursday, we'll use the power of the Web to make an important announcement about the Race to the Top competition. 

    Through the week, we'll cover subjects such as community outreach, technology in education, the contest for high schools to have the President give their commencement address, and our plan to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

    I look forward to reading your comments and interacting with you over the course of the week. President Obama and I are committed to reforming our schools and making sure every student is prepared to succeed in college and careers.

    Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education

  • Education in Focus

    My wife Alma and I are honored to have President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joining us today to announce a new multi-year campaign to mobilize all Americans to help end the high school dropout crisis. We call this work Grad Nation.

    For the past two years, America’s Promise Alliance has been traveling the country, raising awareness about how high dropout rates and low readiness for college and work undermine our nation’s future. In nearly all 50 states and 55 cities, we have convened high-level Dropout Prevention Summits that brought together nearly 30,000 mayors and governors, business and community leaders, school administrators, students and parents. They have committed to concrete action plans to improve graduation rates in their states and communities.

    To that end, the time for talking and planning has ended. Now we must turn our attention to solutions. This means acting on all the lessons we’ve learned at our summits, and more importantly, making sure all Americans see their stake in this and join us to reach an important goal, which is to see that 90 percent of today’s fourth-graders graduate from high school on time. If we achieve this, we will not only be a more healthy and prosperous nation, but we can also help realize President Obama’s goal of making the United States the global pacesetter of college graduation by 2020.

    The simple proposition is this—improving graduation rates is not just an education issue; it’s a community issue. We cannot expect more from our schools and young people until all Americans are prepared to be more involved, because so many of the building blocks that make for success in school involve effort outside of the classroom.

    Grad Nation is the way for us to mobilize to win this battle.

    Much like the Olympic athletes we’ve been inspired by recently, we all need to push past our comfort levels and make our work benefit something greater than ourselves — our country. Whether it is through City Year’s “In School and On Track” initiative or The First Tee’s National School Program, our nearly 400 national Alliance partners and their local affiliates are stepping up to lead the way. We’re already seeing the impact of this type work in cities like Philadelphia and Tucson, which have improved their graduation rates by more than 20 percentage points in a decade.

    So the question remains: What will you do? How can you help? The choice is simple. If we are to remain a great nation, we must be a Grad Nation.

    To learn more about America’s Promise Alliance and Grad Nation, visit:

    General Colin Powell is founding chairman of America’s Promise Alliance