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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC




S. 2441. A bill to authorize resources for a grant program for local educational agencies to create innovation districts; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce a bill--the ``Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act''--to establish grants to 20 school districts across the country. Through competitive grants, these districts would be offered new resources in return for systematic reforms and measurable results.

Today, in my own state, out of every 100 African-American or Latino males in the Chicago schools at age 13, only 3 or fewer will continue on to earn a degree from a 4-year college. The chances of success for a young man of color in many of our urban school districts are the same as the chance of a soldier in Napoleon's Grand Army surviving in the dismal march to Moscow. That is considered a great historical folly, a waste of a generation of young talent. How will we be judged?

Today, a good education is parceled out to some and denied to others, handed down, as a privilege, from generation to generation. A good education is denied not only to children of color in our cities, but also to children living in poverty in our rural areas.

Today, 6 million middle and high school students are reading with skills far below their grade level. Half of all teenagers are unable to understand basic fractions, and half of all 9 year olds are unable to perform basic multiplication or division. We now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized country.

This is a folly and a failure that hurts us all. As we continue in this failure, other nations are moving ahead of us. We know that China and India are training more skilled engineers, who are developing new technologies and innovating in ways that result from their investments in education. We live in a world where few American jobs are secure, and we know that to compete successfully, we must better educate our students. All our students: urban and rural, black and white, rich and poor.

In fact, America's richest untapped source of talent may be in our underserved cities and poor rural areas, among students now trapped in inadequate schools. The best strategy for maintaining America's economic preeminence is to give more students the knowledge and the skills to innovate. To achieve this, our schools, too, must innovate.

That is why today I am introducing the Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act. We need to make sure there is an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective principal in every school. We need to make sure teachers are not distributed in a way that disproportionately places inexperienced and untrained teachers in classrooms with students who need the best teachers. We need to help young teachers get the training and coaching they need, and make sure that experienced teachers have the career opportunities that make use of their talents, giving the best ones a chance to train younger teachers, and a reason to stay in their schools and take on added roles.

Many schools do this and achieve encouraging results. The Innovation Districts for School Improvement Act would apply lessons from these successes, with school districts from across the country becoming seedbeds for further reform. Innovation Districts will focus on teacher recruitment, training, and retention, using successful residency-based programs as a model. They would offer performance pay increases to high-performing teachers, and financial incentives to teachers willing to work in low income schools.

Innovation Districts would partner with local universities, charitable foundations or community institutions to develop, execute, and evaluate their reforms. Most importantly, Innovation Districts would look at new ways to do things better, identify current practices that prevent them from innovating, and show us that if we are willing to support and rethink our schools, all our children can learn, all our children can compete, and our schools can be the best in the world.

I hope my colleagues will support this important legislation.


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