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Obama in Wisconsin: ‘Now the Race Starts’

By Michele McNeil — November 04, 2009 1 min read
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President Obama continues to try to drum up interest and excitement in Race to the Top, using a speech in Wisconsin today to urge the state’s lawmakers to remove its student-teacher data firewall and highlight progress other states have made in gearing up for this national reform competition.

Readers of EdWeek or this blog won’t see anything really new in his speech. But it was significant that he spent a large chunk of the speech trying to educate people about those four “assurances” in the stimulus law, which are clearly becoming the education reform vision of the Obama administration. The four assurances are improving standards and assessments, teacher quality, data collection, and turning around low-performing schools.

During the speech, Obama seemed to borrow a line from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was in town last week, calling education a new “national mission.”

(He also went off script and talked about sixth-grade daughter Malia’s grade on a recent science test: a 73. Malia was probably thrilled to have her grade broadcast across the country. He used this to illustrate how his daughter decided to change her study habits so she could learn better. “Part of our job as parents is not to just tell our kids what to do but instilling in them a sense that they want to do it for themselves,” he said.)

Although no one, including Obama, is saying when the final Race to the Top regulations will be out, he did declare today that “now the race starts.” UPDATE: Obama continued his Race to the Top theme today, even championing the program in his congratulatory call to Virginia’s new Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell, a Republican who won in a landslide.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan attended today’s Wisconsin speech, hitching a ride on Air Force One, and even getting his own press gaggle. Read the Q-and-A Duncan had with the traveling White House press corps here. (I didn’t see anything earth-shattering in this. Note that he says Race to the Top final regulations will be out “soon.” And if you read to the end, you’ll see that Duncan does have a sense of humor.)

Photo: President Barack Obama walks with Education Secretary Arne Duncan down the steps of Air Force One upon their arrival at Dane County Regional Airport, in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 4. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP