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Public Statements

Higher Education Amendments Of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Unknown



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I first want to thank the chairman and ranking member of the HELP Committee--Senator Kennedy and Senator Enzi--for their leadership in bringing this important legislation to the floor. I also appreciate their willingness to incorporate the ideas and concerns of the various committee members. I am pleased to urge my colleagues to support this comprehensive package to improve higher education. This is a worthy conclusion to the discussion that began last week, with the passage of the Higher Education Access Act, to make college more affordable and more accessible.

Education is the centerpiece of a deal America has entered into with its students: if you work hard, if you gain the right set of skills, and if you accept responsibility for your learning, you have a chance for a better life. That is the basic premise of education in our country.

And this deal includes a college degree. A college education and a diploma improve the chance of getting a good job, increase earning potential, and ease entry into the middle class.

Last week, we passed legislation making a college degree more accessible for many students, by increasing student financial aid. Today, we must move forward on the remainder of a comprehensive package for college students and their families. In this legislation, we are asking colleges themselves to look more closely at the increases in their costs, and to report more information, so that students and families have a clearer picture of the cost of attendance.

We are reforming the student loan system, by shedding more light on the process, illuminating more clearly the arrangements between colleges and lenders, and prohibiting payments that give some lenders an unfair advantage. Instead, we must make sure that the system works to the advantage of students. We must act to curb the financial abuses that have been so widely reported at a few institutions, and that have hurt too many students. In this legislation, we have also increased access for many by making the process more user-friendly, by simplifying the financial aid application process, and by helping students plan for their college education earlier in their high school career. All these provisions of the Higher Education Amendments are worthy of the support of my colleagues.

There are two provisions in this legislation which I would especially like to thank my colleagues on the HELP Committee for supporting, and advancing. The first establishes an innovative method for teacher preparation. We know that teachers are the most important resource for students in our schools. And yet, too many students in high-need schools are taught by inadequately prepared teachers, who are often not ready for the challenges they face, and who often choose to leave the classroom too soon.

We must recruit talented Americans to become teachers, and we must help transform teaching, restoring its luster as a profession. We must better prepare prospective teachers, so that when they join the profession, they are successful and choose to stay, so that their students may share in that success. As we ask teachers and school leaders to accept more responsibility for student learning, we must do our part to adequately prepare teachers to achieve success.

Research shows that good preparation programs can make novice teachers effective more rapidly. This legislation includes a provision for residency programs to effectively prepare teachers for the reality of challenging classrooms. Teaching Residency Programs are school-based programs in which prospective teachers teach alongside a mentor teacher for one year, while undertaking coursework to attain teacher certification. Graduates of the program are placed in high-needs schools and continue to receive strong mentoring and support for their first years of teaching.

I am particularly proud that such Teaching Residency Programs are included in title II of these Higher Education Amendments, because it is a model of effective teacher preparation that I have advocated since before I was elected to the Senate. I have seen firsthand the success of such a program in Chicago.

Teaching Residency Programs are based on what we know works best to prepare teachers. We know that mentoring is critical to help novice teachers improve their skills, and to retain many who might otherwise leave the profession within their first few years. We can no longer afford to lose high quality teachers because they are not adequately supported, or because they realize that they are not progressing in their chosen profession.

I am also pleased that the Higher Education Amendments we consider today contain a provision to support predominantly Black institutions--a proposal first suggested by my good friend, Representative Danny Davis. These are colleges which serve a growing number of African-American students, most of whom are the first in their families to go to college and most of whom receive student financial aid. It is appropriate that we support such institutions, to help ensure that these colleges, in turn, support the efforts and talents of these students. Over the years, Congress has acknowledged the key role of similar institutions through provisions supporting historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other colleges and universities whose mission includes educational opportunities for minority students.

The Higher Education Amendments we consider today contain much that will help our students be more successful. I am proud to have been involved in developing this legislation, and I urge my colleagues to support its passage.

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