On Friday, March 4, President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush paid collective tribute to the efforts of Miami Central Senior High School in turning around the school’s scholastic achievement. They also addressed the importance of investment in education and collective responsibility as part of the president’s plan to “win the future.”
Last year, the Department of Education awarded states $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding to help turn the tide of under-performing schools. Florida received $170.2 million in funding, and, in turn, awarded the Miami-Dade School District nearly $14 million to turn around its 19 persistently lowest achieving schools. Miami Central, a chronically low-achieving school, was awarded $784,000 and has been engaged in rigorous turnaround work and has seen some early successes.
“We are at a pivotal turning point,” said President Obama to a captive audience of excited high school students and administrators. “We just came through a tough recession that’s taken a big toll on families here in Florida and all across the country. And to accelerate our recovery in the short term we took some essential steps to spur hiring and economic growth, including tax cuts that are making Americans’ paychecks bigger and letting businesses write off their investments –- and I am proud — I’m proud that Republicans and Democrats came together to get that done.
“But we need to keep building on that momentum,” he said. “And in a world that’s more competitive, more connected than ever before, that means answering some difficult questions: How do we attract new jobs? How do we attract new businesses? How do we attract new industries to our shores? How do we grow our economy and out-compete countries around the world? How do we make sure all of you — all of our students, whether they go to Miami Central or anyplace else –- how do we make sure you have a chance at the American Dream?”
The president made clear his commitment to education, and reinforced his ‘can do…stop at nothing’ attitude when it comes to securing the success of America’s future generations. He was also emphatic in noting that, in order to ‘win the future,’ Americans must out-educate, out-perform, and out-compete our international counterparts:
Now, I want all the young people here to listen, because over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs are going to require a level of education that goes beyond a high school degree. So, first of all, you can’t drop out. You can’t even think about dropping out. You can’t even think about dropping out. But it’s not going to be enough just to graduate from high school. You’re going to need some additional education. And a good education equals a good job. If we want more good news on the jobs front, then we’ve got to make more investments in education. As a nation, making these investments -– in education, in innovation, in infrastructure –- all of them are essential.
Acknowledging that “turning around these schools isn’t easy,” President Obama was also sure to note that “money is not alone going to do the job.” He said that “we also have to reform how things are done.”
Florida Senator Tony Hill, Democratic Minority Whip in the Florida Senate, agrees, saying that “there has to be major change in our low performing schools.” Hill was also sure to note that charter schools aren’t the only answer in improving the academic success equation, especially because they only help a small percentage of children.
“Community stakeholders must come together,” Hill said. “The NAACP, Churches, retired educators…and they must develop a plan and then implement it. It’s time to get back to basics: reading, writing, arithmetic.”
Pleased by the union of President Obama and Gov. Bush in visiting Miami Central Senior High School, Senator Hill said that he’s “glad to see two individuals of different persuasions come together around ways we can move from low performing to high performing schools.”
Senator Hill’s enthusiasm was echoed by President Obama who said, “it’s time we came together — just like Jeb and I are doing today -– coming from different parties but we come together not as Democrats or Republicans, as Americans –- to lift up all of our schools — and to prepare students like you for a 21st century economy. To give every child in America a chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”