President Obama Touts Education Reform on Anniversary of Election

On the no-year anniversary of his 2008 election, President Obama is heading back to school and encouraging America's educators to think big in order to obtain more federal money.

At Wright Middle School in Madison, Wis., today, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan

VIDEO: Education Secretary Arne Ducan will foster a program to reward excellence.

will meet with students and the president will speak about education reform and strengthening the nation's schools.

Obama will promote his administration's "Race to the Top" initiative, a $4.35 billion education program funded through the Recovery Act. The program is a national competition among states that the Obama Administration hopes will inspire bold action for education reform.

In the next few weeks the Department of Education will begin accepting applications for grant money.

The awards will start to go out in January, but there will be two rounds of funding, so states that do not qualify or win grants in this first round will be able to apply again later in 2010.

Yesterday the White House said the onus was on states to make the best case for why they deserve funding.

"He's going to talk about his education reform plan and he's going to highlight the importance of innovation and excellence in our public education system," White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes told reporters on Tuesday. "This competition is not based on politics or ideology or interest group preferences. It's based on whether or not a state is ready to do what actually works."

Programmed Designed to Innovate, Inspire

The controversial "Race to the Top" program offers one of the first glimpses into how far the Obama administration is willing to go to create reform.

Through "Race to the Top," Duncan aims to prop up states that innovate and inspire those that have not.

The program centers on four basic "assurances" that states must meet to qualify for a piece of the pie -- turning around low-performing schools, in part by expanding charter schools; enacting rigorous, common academic standards; improving teacher quality and beefing up state data systems.

In July, Duncan told ABC News that while this program "isn't about winners and losers," it is a competition so some states will be left out in the cold.

But Duncan said he hoped that tapping into the competitive spirit of educators and administrators will drive reform.

"I think there'll be tremendous pressure on states, state legislatures where things aren't happening, by parents saying exactly that: 'Our children deserve a slice of the pie, and we want that pressure,'" Duncan said in July. "This isn't about winners and losers... This is about challenging the status quo as a country, getting dramatically better and giving every child in this country a chance they desperately need to have a great, great quality education."

Winners and Losers in Funding Competition

In this race, however, there will be clear winners and losers. States will be judged based on their progress in each of the four areas and -- given the way several states have been using education stimulus money to fill budget gaps rather than to innovate -- it is clear that not all states will be awarded funding.

When the parameters on the funding were first announced, several states were immediately identified as already out of the running because of existing state laws.

California's state legislature quickly acted to change its laws to qualify by allowing teacher pay to be linked to student performance.

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