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Democratic National Convention: Obama Outlines Education Goals

President Obama highlighted a number of his education policy initiatives in his speech at the Democratic National Convention Thursday, although the official titles and acronyms were nowhere to be found.

Obama briefly referenced the Common Core State Standards that are being ramped up in nearly all of the nation’s states, a successful push to freeze college loan interest rates for millions of students, and even the controversial “deferred action” program, which offers a limited number of undocumented youth and young adults the opportunity to avoid deportation and secure work permits, provided they stay in school and out of trouble.

However, there was no direct mention of his two most costly, and aggressive, initiatives: Race To The Top, the $4 billion competitive grant program in which states (and now districts) are eligible to compete for a share of federal funds in exchange for adopting specific reforms, and the School Improvement Grant program, which has poured more than $4.6 billion in underachieving public schools.

Race To The Top has not been without controversy or critics. And it’s still early days for quantitative research on the effectiveness of the SIG program, although state education officials have said the federal infusion helped them maintain programs and services during the height of the recession. There is also some encouraging early data that student achievement benefited as a result of the SIG funds.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed the convention Wednesday, and as Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog noted, he also left out some hot-button topics in his remarks. Ed Week’s ace blogging team has a breakdown of the speech here, which includes an update with Duncan’s response to criticism that he had avoided “touchy issues.”

As for the president, he also used his speech to emphasize his administration’s intent to improve and expand the nation’s teacher workforce, and a plan to push colleges and universities to keep higher education affordable. But ultimately, Obama said, improving the nation’s public education system has to be a shared responsibility.

“A government has a role in this,” Obama said. “But teachers must inspire, principals must lead, parents must instill a thirst for learning, and students, you’ve gotta do the work.”

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