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President Obama and Secretary Duncan Meet 6th Graders

Posted by: Audiegrl

Speeding Up the Race to the Top

President Barack Obama and Sec. of Education Arne Duncan, right, take questions during a group discussion with 6th grade students at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, VA. January 19, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama announces a proposed $1.3 billion investment in Race to the Top, a program to encourage innovation and excellence in education through competitive grants, at an event at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, VA. January 19, 2010.

This morning the President and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan paid a visit to Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia where they had a chat with about 30 6th grade students. The conversation put a face to the people they were trying to help with the President’s latest investment of more than a billion dollars in next year’s budget to amp up the President’s “Race to the Top” program – a competition to incentivize success that has already generated an overwhelming response from states, with over 30 states expected to compete for first-round funding.

You can learn more about Graham Road in the White House background release, but the school made a mark on its community by implementing a comprehensive strategy to turn around student achievement, adopting rigorous and high-quality student assessments, teacher evaluation and professional development, along with innovative and effective use of data systems to track student performance. As a result, in 2008 all of the school’s sixth-graders met Virginia’s reading standards, and 96 percent met math standards, despite being one of the lowest income schools in the county. The expansion of Race to the Top comes with a plan to encourage precisely this kind of visionary change in schools that apply for the challenge.

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In his remarks after the meeting with students, the President explained how it all works, and the logic behind “Race to the Top“:

Last year, we set aside more than $4 billion to improve our schools — one of the largest investments in reform in our nation’s history. But we didn’t just hand this money out to states that wanted it; we challenged them to compete for it. And it’s the competitive nature of this initiative that we believe helps make it so effective. We laid out a few key criteria and said if you meet these tests, we’ll reward you by helping you reform your schools.

First, we encouraged states to adopt more challenging standards that will actually prepare our kids for college and their careers. We also encouraged schools to adopt better assessments — not just one-size-fits-all approaches — to measure what our kids know and what they’re able to do.

Second, we urged schools and school districts to make sure we have excellent principals leading our schools and great teachers leading our classes by promoting rigorous plans to develop and evaluate teachers and principals and by rewarding their success.

Third, we urged states to use cutting-edge data systems to track a child’s progress throughout their academic career, and to link that child’s progress to their teachers so we know what’s working and what’s not working in the classroom. Fourth, we encouraged states to show a stronger commitment to turning around some of their lowest-performing schools.

And even before states have received a single dime of taxpayer money, many of them have committed to instituting important reforms to better position themselves for a Race to the Top grant. Forty-eight states have now joined a nationwide partnership to develop a common set of rigorous, career-ready standards in reading and math. Wisconsin has enacted legislation permitting schools to link student achievement to the performance of teachers and principals. In Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee, California, we’ve seen changes in laws or policies to let public charter schools expand and succeed. These are public schools with more independence that are formed by teachers, parents, and community members.

So by rewarding some of these states submitting applications today, by extending the Race to the Top for states, by launching a Race to the Top among school districts, and by applying the principles of Race to the Top to other federal programs, we’ll build on this success. We’re going to raise the bar for all our students and take bigger steps towards closing the achievement gap that denies so many students, especially black and Latino students, a fair shot at their dreams.

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First Lady Michelle Obama Celebrates National Mentoring Month

Posted by: Audiegrl

January is National Mentoring Month and this afternoon President Obama and the First Lady will welcome mentors and young Americans from around the country. As we gather in the East Room, organizations and community groups dedicated to supporting our nation’s young people will come together to reaffirm the importance of mentorship. The President will also announce the White House Mentorship Program for 20 young men from local high schools. Each student was nominated by his school and will be paired with an Administration staffer for one year. This program will allow the participants to serve our local community and students will be encouraged to pursue excellence in school as well as expand their horizons as they are introduced to numerous opportunities for personal development, including career skills. Mentorship has long been a priority for both the President and Mrs. Obama, as a part of their commitment to their community and personal responsibility. The First Lady launched her initiative for young women this past November and they’re already off to a great start. Check out a video of the First Lady and senior Administration women on a mentoring trip to Denver to see this initiative in action.

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First Lady Michelle Obama Delivers Toys for Tots

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the soldiers and volunteers who worked on the Marine Corps program.

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the soldiers and volunteers who worked on the Marine Corps program.


First Lady Michelle Obama visits the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toy for Tots warehouse in Stafford, VA to deliver some of the more than 500 toys collected during a White House drive. The program helps make sure needy children have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. The first lady was told about an abundance of toys for younger children. She asked the public to think about needy older children when shopping for toys to donate.

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Obama jobs plan: Bailout for Main Street

Key parts of Obama job creation package

Here are the key elements of the job creation package President Barack Obama outlined Tuesday:

Small Business Incentives

-Eliminating capital gains taxes on new investments in small businesses through 2010, if the investments are held for at least five years.

-Extension through 2010 of a law that allows small businesses to take immediate tax write-offs on up to $250,000 of qualified investments.

-An employment tax cut through 2010 to encourage small business hiring.

-Making Small Business Administration loans more readily available, by eliminating fees and increasing federal loan guarantees in 2010.

Roads, Bridges and Other Infrastructure

-Up to $50 billion in new spending on ready-to-go construction projects.

-New merit-based procedures to select infrastructure projects for financing.

Energy Efficiency Investments

-Rebates for homeowners to make energy efficient improvements.

-Expansion of programs that use federal money to leverage private investments in industrial and manufacturing projects that use clean energy.

more details here:

Job Creation and Economic Growth

President Obama outlines the steps his Administration has taken to stimulate economic growth and plans to create new American jobs in remarks to the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. December 8, 2009.

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First Lady Michelle Obama: “If You Ask a Kid To Dream, He’ll Dream” 

First Lady Michelle Obama congratulates an award recipient during the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities Coming Up Taller event in the State Dining Room of the White House

First Lady Michelle Obama congratulates an award recipient during the President's Committee on Arts and Humanities Coming Up Taller event in the State Dining Room of the White House

Yesterday afternoon in the historic State Dining Room, First Lady Michelle Obama, honorary chair of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities, presented 15 programs from around the world with the Coming Up Taller Award. Given to arts and humanities organizations that reach underserved youth, the award is a reminder of the meaningful role cultural activities play in the lives of our children. This year’s recipients include the Shakespeare Remix program in New York, where inner-city teens adapt and perform Shakespearean texts to reflect their own lives, and the Harmony Project in Los Angeles, which provides free music instruction to at-risk children.

Speaking to a crowd of teachers, program workers, and students, the First Lady highlighted the positive impact these programs have in the lives of children around the world:

    Because of you, teens in Arizona are publishing their own magazine, and children in central and south Los Angeles are learning to play instruments and performing in orchestras. Because of the work that you do, students in New York City are mastering Shakespeare. And in my hometown of Chicago, there are students learning traditional Mexican art forms. There are young people in Egypt who are learning basket weaving and storytelling, calligraphy and photography.

    And you’re not just connecting young people with music, dance, poetry and drama. But because of your work, you’re connecting people, these young people to mentoring, to tutoring, to social services, and college counseling. You don’t just show them the power of their imagination, but you show them the power of discipline and hard work and of teamwork, as well.

    And these young people don’t just become accomplished singers and painters and authors. They also become better students, they become better leaders, and they become better citizens, enriching not just themselves but their communities, teaching younger children the skills that they’ve learned, beautifying neighborhoods with murals and lifting their communities with their performances.

    Ultimately, each of your programs is using achievement in the arts as a bridge to achievement in life. And you see all this every day, each and every one of you working so hard. You see this in your students as they become more confident and more engaged and more willing to take risks and to take responsibility for their futures. You see it when their academic performance improves, when you see improving attitudes and higher GPAs. And you see young people who never saw themselves as college material, you see them getting those acceptance letters and you see them going on to pursue their degrees. So we all know in this room the power of the arts to change young people’s lives.

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First Lady Michelle Obama to Mentor Washington Girls

Posted by Audiegrl

Will join staffers Desiree Rogers, Susan Sher, Tina Tchen, Valerie Jarrett

First Lady Michelle Obama, Fran Drescher and Sheryl Crow

First Lady Michelle Obama, Fran Drescher and Sheryl Crow

Chicago Tribune/Katherine Skiba—First Lady Michelle Obama — and some of her Chicago “sisters” in the White House — on Monday will launch a first-of-its-kind mentoring program with about 20 high school girls from greater Washington.

As the first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s election nears, it’s the first lady who is making history now. Call this chapter “Girl Power.”

Observers say her leadership and mentoring initiative has not been done by a first lady before. It will see Obama — and White House staffers including Valerie Jarrett, Tina Tchen, Susan Sher and Desiree Rogers, Chicagoans all — act as mentors to high school juniors and sophomores.

Jarrett is a senior White House adviser. Tchen leads its public liaison office. Sher is the first lady’s chief of staff. Rogers is White House social secretary.

The proteges were chosen by high schools, the Girl Scouts and military families, including Gold Star families who have lost a loved one, said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, the first lady’s spokeswoman.

A similar initiative for young men is coming later, she said.

Tchen, an attorney from Chicago long active in politics, said the program builds on a March event at the White House that saw high school girls interact with the first lady, White House officials and a cast of celebrities including singers Alicia Keyes and Sheryl Crow; actresses and sisters Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad; actress Fran Drescher; and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel into space.

The First Lady chats with Fran Drescher and Alica Keys

The First Lady chats with Fran Dresche and Alica Keys

Tchen said the program launch will see proteges visit their mentors’ offices and gather as a group for dinner. The inaugural class’s duration has not been decided, she said, adding that she expects discussions of college, careers, and balancing work and motherhood.

The mentors, she said, want to give proteges a “window to a wide variety of different opportunities to play out your dreams.”

Letitia Baldrige, who was a top aide to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, said the mentoring program was “definitely” a first for a presidential spouse. She called it “wonderfully imaginative,” but cautioned it will be difficult in part because of the ongoing commitment it requires.

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Fareed Zakaria: “We Must Stop Exaggerating the Iranian Threat”

Posted by Audiegrl

The Changing Face of Iran  (Photo: Paolo Pellegrin)

The Changing Face of Iran (Photo: Paolo Pellegrin)

Newsweek/Fareed Zakaria—It is time to clarify the debate over Iran and its nuclear program. It’s easy to criticize the current course adopted by the United States and its allies, to huff and puff about Iranian mendacity, to point out that Russia and China won’t agree to tougher measures against Tehran, and to detail the leaks in the sanctions already in place. But what, then, should the United States do? The critics are eager to denounce the administration from the sidelines for being weak but rarely detail what they would do to be “tough.” Would they attack Iran today? If not, then what should we do? It is time to put up or shut up on Iran.

There are three basic options that the United States and its allies have regarding Iran’s nuclear program. We can bomb Iran, engage it diplomatically, or contain and deter the threat it poses. Let me outline what each would entail and then explain why I favor containment and deterrence.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a problem. Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is a danger, and the Iranian regime’s foreign policy—which has involved support for militias and terrorist groups—make it a destabilizing force in the region. The country has a right to civilian nuclear energy, as do all nations. But Tehran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, submitting itself to the jurisdiction of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA says Iran has exhibited a pattern of deception and non-cooperation involving its nuclear program for 20 years—including lying about its activities and concealing sites. In that context, it makes sense to be suspicious of Iran’s intentions and to ask that the IAEA routinely verify and inspect its facilities. Unless that can be achieved, Iran should pay the price for its actions. Washington’s current strategy is to muster international support to impose greater costs, while at the same time negotiating with Iran to find a solution that gives the world greater assurance that the Iranian program is purely civilian in nature.

It is an unsatisfying, frustrating approach. The Russians and Chinese want to trade with Iran and will not impose crippling sanctions. (Nor would India or Brazil, nor most other major developing countries.) Even if there were some resolution, it would depend on inspections in Iran, and the Iranians could probably hide things from the inspectors and cheat. They do occasionally make concessions, including significant ones last week—to open the newly revealed Qum facility to inspectors and to send uranium to Russia for enrichment (which Tehran announced just as columnists were declaring that negotiations were sure to lead to nothing). But there will be setbacks as well. The cat-and-mouse game will continue.

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