Published Online: February 19, 2010

Obama to Students: See You at Graduation

Coming to a high school graduation near you: President Barack Obama.

The White House and the Education Department are giving public high schools the opportunity to compete to have the president speak at their commencement ceremony this spring. The winning school must demonstrate how it's helping prepare students to meet Obama's goal of the U.S. having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

"Public schools that encourage systemic reform and embrace effective approaches to teaching and learning help prepare America's students to graduate ready for college and a career," Obama said in a video announcing the competition, called The Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge.

Obama has called for a boost in federal spending on education, including the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program created by the economic stimulus act. States must compete for a share of the money. For some, that means changing education laws and striking deals with teachers unions to bring their systems in line with Obama's vision of education reform, which includes linking student test scores to teacher performance.

The White House will certainly be hoping that the president's commencement address proves to be less controversial than his televised back-to-school speech to the nation's students in September. That seemingly innocuous address about working hard and getting good grades drew criticism from some conservatives, who accused the president of trying to push his political agenda in schools.

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