Obama Offers $900 Million for Struggling Schools

BY Jason M. Breslow  March 1, 2010 at 1:21 PM EST

In a bid to cut the nation’s high school drop out rate, President Obama on Monday proposed as much as $900 million in federal aid to states that agree to shake up or even close their worst schools.

The president’s plan would target 5,000 underperforming schools at a time when some 30 percent of high school freshmen never go on to graduate.

The president’s push to lower the dropout rate is just one peg of his overall education agenda, highlighted by the $4.3 billion Race to the Top program

“In this kind of knowledge economy, giving up on your education and dropping out of school means not only giving up on your future, but it’s also giving up on your family’s future,” Mr. Obama said while announcing the proposal before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “It’s giving up on your country.”

As the Washington Post reports, the president’s $900 million plan leans heavily on four strategies:

“Each of the strategies, at minimum, appears to require replacing the school’s principal. The ‘turnaround’ model would also require replacing at least half the school staff. ‘Restart’ schools would be transferred to the control of independent charter networks or other school management organizations. ‘Transformation’ schools would be required to take steps to raise teacher effectiveness and increase learning time, among other measures. The fourth strategy would be closing a school and dispersing its students.”

Writing in Education Next, the American Enterprise Institute’s Andy Smarick says educators can not be afraid to shudder failing schools. “Quite simply,” he writes, “turnarounds are not a scalable strategy for fixing America’s troubled urban school systems … When conscientiously applied strategies fail to drastically improve America’s lowest-performing schools, we need to close them.”

Back in December, the NewsHour’s special correspondent for education, John Merrow took a closer look at the Race to the Top stimulus funds program, which pits states against each other in competition for the aid. Watch the report here: