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Public Statements

Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC




S. 1574. A bill to establish Teaching Residency Programs for preparation and induction of teachers; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, we will soon begin consideration of legislation to educate America's students, with Head Start, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Higher Education Act all slated for reauthorization. One of the most important aspects of No Child Left Behind is its provision for a highly qualified teacher for every child, in every classroom in America.

Expert teachers are the most important educational resource in our schools, and also the most inequitably distributed. In the United States, too many students in high-need schools are taught by inadequately prepared teachers, who are often not ready for the challenges they face, and thus leave the classroom too soon. High-poverty schools lose one-fifth of their teaching staff each year. This constant turnover of inexperienced, inadequately prepared teachers undermines efforts to create stable learning cultures and to sustain school improvement, especially in schools with greatest need.

Many schools are being identified as in need of improvement, and many students are asked to be successful in schools where success is a rare commodity. Rather than being a leader in a competitive world where educational attainment is precious, America has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the industrialized world. Three out of every 10 ninth-grade students will not graduate on time, and about half of all African American and Hispanic ninth graders will not earn a diploma in four years. Less than 2 out of every 10 students who begin high school will receive a postsecondary degree within a reasonable time. Students of color, new immigrants, and children living in poverty are all being left behind. A good education is granted to some, but denied to others, denied not only to children of color in our cities, but also to children living in poverty in our rural areas. We must end this.

We must recruit the best and the brightest Americans to become teachers and we must transform teaching, restoring its luster as a profession, so that when new teachers join it, they are successful, and want to stay. As teachers and principals are increasingly being held individually responsible for student success, it is increasingly important that we adequately prepare teachers to become successful.

Research shows that inexperienced teachers are less effective than teachers with several years of experience, but good preparation programs can make novice teachers effective more rapidly. We must help novice teachers get the training and coaching they need. Teacher preparation seldom provides the opportunity to learn under the supervision of expert teachers working in schools that effectively serve high-need students. Most new teachers lack such support, and so leave the profession before achieving success.

Today I am proud to introduce the Teaching Residency Act, which builds on a successful model of teacher preparation similar to medical residencies. Teaching Residency Programs are school-based teacher preparation programs in which prospective teachers teach alongside a mentor teacher for one academic year, receive master's level coursework in teaching the content area in which they will become certified, and attain certification prior to completion of the program. Once certified, graduates of the program are placed in high-needs schools, and continue to receive strong mentoring and coaching for their first years of teaching. This bill proposes establishing Teaching Residency Programs as a provision of Title II of the Higher Education Act.

I am particularly proud to introduce this legislation today, because it is a model of effective teacher preparation that I have supported since before I was elected to the Senate in 2004. I have seen the power of teacher residencies through the very successful Academy for Urban School Leadership in my home State of Illinois. And I am pleased to be supported in this effort by the introduction of legislation in the House by my good friend, Congressman RAHM EMANUEL.

It is critical to develop programs that increase the probability that recruits will succeed and stay in those classrooms where they are most needed. Teaching Residency Programs are based on what we know works best to improve teacher preparation. We know that mentoring is critical to help young teachers develop in the early years of their career and to retain many of new teachers who would otherwise leave the profession in their first years. We cannot afford to lose any more high quality teachers because they do not feel supported or do not feel that they are progressing professionally.

I hope my colleagues will support this important legislation.


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, this Nation has witnessed dramatic improvements in public health and health care technology and practice over the last century. Diseases that were once life-threatening are now curable; conditions that once devastated are now treatable. Our Federal investment in medical research has paid off handsomely, with new and more effective tests and treatments and near daily reports of new scientific breakthroughs. Yet still today too many Americans have not and will not derive full benefit from these advances.

We know that minority Americans and other vulnerable populations needlessly continue to experience higher rates of disease and lower rates of survival, and this is simply unacceptable. As we in the Congress work to combat the serious health issues that threaten the well-being of all Americans, we must also remain vigilant and committed in our fight to address the persistent and pervasive health disparities that affect millions of minorities, low-income individuals and other at-risk populations.

Congress has passed legislation before to address the health of minority populations and eliminate health disparities--the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act of 2000. That bill created the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, supported the landmark IOM report Unequal Treatment, required annual reporting on health care disparities by AHRQ, and strengthened the research base for many HBCU's, among many other provisions.

Since that bill passed, our knowledge and understanding about the root causes of these disparities has dramatically increased. Efforts to strengthen the research infrastructure needed to investigate health concerns among people of color have been quite effective. Momentum has also accelerated in the medical and public health communities as advocates' voices are heard more and more, with new interventions being implemented and evaluated. All of these positive steps and advances have helped to raise minority health as a national priority. However, despite this activity, much work remains to be done in order to close the gap and eliminate health and health care disparities.

Study after study reveals the stark line of health disparity drawn between minorities and whites. In cancer alone, the numbers are hard to overlook. In 2004, African American men were 2.4 times as likely to die from prostate cancer, as compared to white men. For heart disease, the statistics are equally compelling: 2004 data show that when compared to white men, African American men were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease, and American Indian adults were 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure.

The underlying factors for health disparities are multi-factorial. Our individual genetic makeup certainly contributes to differences in rates of disease and mortality in diverse populations. However, other factors play an equal if not greater role. We know that minority and low-income Americans are disproportionately less likely to live in communities that promote healthy behaviors and choices through access to wholesome foods and opportunities for physical activity, and that protect from exposure to environmental toxins and violence. In addition, minority Americans are less likely to have health coverage and thus more likely to experience difficulties accessing the health care system, which leads to delayed diagnoses and foregone care. And last but not least, we know that minority Americans are less likely to receive medical care that meets recommended or accepted standards of practice, when compared to White Americans. As an example, the American Journal of Public Health has reported that more than 886,000 deaths could have been prevented from 1991 to 2000 if African Americans had received the same level of health care as Whites.

For all of these reasons, I am joining my colleagues Senator KENNEDY and Senator COCHRAN in introducing the Minority Health Improvement and Health Disparity Elimination Act of 2007. This critical legislation has a number of important provisions to help us achieve our goal to improve the health status of minority and other underserved populations. First, this bill strengthens education and training in cultural competence and communication, which is the cornerstone of quality health care for all patients. It also reauthorizes the pipeline programs in title VII of the Public Health Service Act, which seek to increase diversity in the health professions. We all know that the door to opportunity is only half open for minority students in the health professions. The percentage of minority health professionals is shockingly low--African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians account for one-third of the Nation's population but less than 10 percent of the Nation's doctors, less than 5 percent of dentists and only 12 percent of nurses. We can--and must--do better.

Lack of workforce diversity has serious implications for both access and quality of health care. Minority physicians are significantly more likely to treat low-income patients, and their patients are disproportionately minority. Studies have also shown that minority physicians provide higher quality of care to minority patients, who are more satisfied with their care and more likely to follow the doctor's recommendations.

Second, this bill expands and supports a number of initiatives to increase access to quality care. Specifically, the legislation authorizes demonstration grants to improve access to healthcare, patient navigators, and health literacy education services. Additionally, partnerships modeled after the Health Disparity Collaboratives at the Bureau of Primary Health Care are supported through established grants. The REACH program at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--designed to assist communities in mobilizing and organizing resources to support effective and sustainable programs to reduce health disparities--is established under this bill. And I am pleased that the Health Action Zone Initiative has also been authorized. This new environmental public health program was introduced as part of the Healthy Communities Act of 2007 that I introduced earlier this year, and guides and strengthens community efforts to improve health in comprehensive and sustained fashion.

A third area of focus is expansion and acceleration of data collection and research across the agencies, including the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Institute of Health, with special emphasis on translational research. The tremendous advances in medical science and health technology, which have benefited millions of Americans, have remained out of reach for too many minorities, and translational research will help to remedy this problem. The National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which has a leadership role in establishing the disparities research strategic plan at the National Institutes of Health, is reauthorized. And a new advisory committee has been established at the Food and Drug Administration to focus on pharmacogenomics and its safe and appropriate use in minority populations, another issue area that I championed as part of my Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act of 2006.

Last but not least, I want to highlight that the bill strengthens and clarifies the duties of the Office of Minority Health. This office has been critical in providing the leadership, expertise and guidance for health improvement activities across the agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services, and has helped to ensure coordination, collaboration and integration of such efforts as well.

In conclusion, I want emphasize that it is past time to expand and accelerate our work in a of minority health beyond the initial bipartisan effort Congress achieved in 2000. We have got to translate the knowledge we have gained into practical and effective interventions that will improve minority health and eliminate disparities, and this bill will help us do just that.

I urge my colleagues to join me in cosponsoring and passing this critical legislation. Regardless of how you measure it, whether by needless suffering, lost productivity, financial costs, or lives lost, disparities in health and health care are a tremendous problem and a moral imperative for our Nation, and one that is within our power to address right now.

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