President Obama Speaks on Education and High School Redesign

The President:
Hello, Mustangs! (applause) Fantastic. Well, everybody
have a seat. Have a seat. Thank you, Leah, for
the great introduction. Give Leah a big
round of applause. Yay! (applause) Meeting young
people like Leah just makes me inspired. It’s a good way
to start the week. And all of the students
here who are discovering and exploring new ideas is
one of the reasons I love visiting schools like
Bladensburg High. And so I just want to
congratulate all of you for the great work
that you’re doing. I brought a couple of
folks here who are helping to facilitate some
of the programs here. My new Deputy Secretary of
Labor, Chris Lu, is here. Give him a big
round of applause. (applause) And some of
the biggest champions for education in Prince
George’s County are here, including your Governor,
Martin O’Malley. (applause) County
Executive Rushern Baker. (applause) Mayor
Walter James. (applause) Superintendent
Kevin Maxwell. (applause) Your biggest
fans in Congress, Donna Edwards and Steny Hoyer. (applause) We are proud
of all of them, and we’re proud of you. All of you remind me, all
these young people here, that young people today
are working on cooler stuff than they were when
I was in high school. In classrooms across the
country, students just like the students here,
they’re working hard, they’re setting
their sights high. And we’ve got to do
everything we can to make sure that all of you have
a chance to succeed. And that’s why your
outstanding principal, Aisha Mahoney, is working
so hard at this school. (applause) That’s why
Governor O’Malley has been working so hard to repair
old schools and build new ones across the
state of Maryland. And that’s why
I’m here today. Because last year, we
launched a national competition to redesign
America’s high schools for the 21st century — the
21st century economy. And I’m proud to say that
your hard work here has paid off, because one of
the winners is Prince George’s County. (applause) Good job. That’s right, you
guys have done great. (applause) Now, let me
tell you why this is so important. Many of the young people
here, you’ve grown up in the midst of one of the
worst economic crises of our lifetimes. And it’s been hard and
it’s been painful. There are a lot of
families that lost their homes, lost jobs; a lot of
families that are still hurting out there. But the work that we’ve
done, the groundwork that we’ve laid, has created
a situation where we’re moving in the
right direction. Our businesses have
created almost 9 million new jobs over the
last four years. Our high school graduation
rate is the highest on record. Dropout rates are going
down; among Latinos, the dropout rate has been
cut in half since 2000. (applause) More young
people are earning college degrees than ever before. We’ve been bringing troops
home from two wars. More than 7 million
Americans have now signed up for health coverage
through the Affordable Care Act. (applause) So we’ve been
making progress, but we’ve got more work to do to
make sure that every one of these young people,
that everybody who is willing to work hard has
the chance to get ahead. We’ve got to make sure
that our economy works for everybody, not just a few. We’ve got to make sure
opportunity exists for all people. No matter who you are, no
matter where you started out, you’ve got to
have confidence that if you work hard and take
responsibility, you can make it. And that’s the chance that
this country gave me. It’s the chance that this
country gave Michelle. And that’s why we’re
working so hard for what we call an opportunity
agenda — one that gives everybody a shot. And there are four simple
goals: We want to create new jobs. We want to make sure that
people have the skills to fill those jobs. We want to make sure
every young person has a world-class education. And we want to make sure
that we reward hard work with things like health
care you can count on and wages you can live on. And Maryland and Governor
O’Malley have been working alongside us on these
issues, and I want to give a special shout-out to
the Maryland legislature because, because of
Governor O’Malley’s leadership, you are
helping to make sure that we are raising more
people’s wages with your push to raise your minimum
wage right here in Maryland. (applause) We’re very
proud to see that happen. And I hope Governor
O’Malley is going to sign it into law soon. Give Maryland a raise. (applause) That’s good work. But the main focus here is
guaranteeing every young person has access to a
world-class education. Every single student. Now, that starts
before high school. We’ve got to start at the
youngest ages by making sure we’ve got
high-quality preschool and other early learning
programs for every young child in America. (applause) It
makes a difference. We’ve got to make sure
that every student has access to the world’s
information and the world’s best technology,
and that’s why we’re moving forward with
an initiative we call ConnectED to finally
connect 99 percent of America’s students to
high-speed Internet in the next few years. (applause) It means that
we’ve got to rein in college costs — because
I want to make sure that Leah, when she goes to
school, she’s not burdened with too much debt. (applause) And we’ve got
to make it easier to repay student loans —
because none of the young people here should be denied a
higher education just because your family has
trouble affording it. And a world-class
education means preparing every young person with
the skills they need for college, for a career, and for a lifetime of citizenship. So what we did was
we launched a new competition, backed by
America’s Departments of Education and Labor, to
start redesigning some of our high schools. We call it Youth
CareerConnect. And we’re offering $100
million in new grants to help schools and local
partners develop and test new curricula and
models for success. We want to invest
in your future. You guys are all coming up
in an age where you’re not going to be able to
compete with people across town for good jobs —
you’re going to be competing with the
rest of the world. Young people in India
and China, they’re all interested in trying
to figure out how they get a foothold in this
world economy. That’s who you’re
competing against. Now, I’m confident you can
match or exceed anything they do, but we don’t do
it by just resting on what we’ve done before. We’ve got to out-work
and out-innovate and out-hustle everybody else. We’ve got to think about
new ways of doing things. And part of our concern
has been our high schools, a lot of them were
designed with curriculums based on the 1940s and
’50s and ’60s, and haven’t been updated. So the idea behind this
competition is how do we start making high
school, in particular, more interesting, more
exciting, more relevant to young people. Last year, for example, I
visited a school called P-TECH — this is in
Brooklyn — a high school that partnered
with IBM and the City University of New York to offer its
students not only a high school diploma, but also
an associate’s degree in computer systems or electromechanical engineering. IBM said that P-TECH
graduates would be the first in line for jobs. Then I visited a high
school in Nashville that offers “academies” where
students focus on a specific subject area —
but they’re also getting hands-on experience
running their own credit union, working in their
own TV studios, learning 3D printing, tinkering
with their own airplane — which was pretty cool. I never got to do that. I did get my own
airplane later in life. (laughter) Although I’ve
got to give it back. (laughter) I don’t
get to keep it. But this is stuff I didn’t
get to do when I was in high school —
and I wish I had. But it’s stuff you have to
know how to do today, in today’s economy. Things are moving
faster, they’re more sophisticated. So we challenged America’s
high schools to look at what’s happening in a
place like P-TECH, look at what’s happening in
cities like Nashville, and then say what can you do to
make sure your students learn the skills that
businesses are looking for in high-demand fields. And we asked high schools
to develop partnerships with colleges and
employers, and create classes that focus on
real-life applications for the fields of the future
— fields like science and technology and
engineering and math. And part of the reason we
have to do this now is because other countries,
they’ve got a little bit of a lead on us on
some of these areas. A country like Germany
right now focuses on graduating their high
school students with a technical degree
equivalent that give them a head start. So we’re asking schools to
look into what places like Germany are doing. Now, not every school
that enters into this competition for the $100
million is going to win — because we don’t have
enough money for everybody, and we want to
force schools to think hard and redesign, and we
want to reward the schools that are being most
innovative and are actually proving some of
the concepts that they’re trying out. But the great thing
is that through this competition, schools
across the country that entered have changed the
way they prepare their students, and have
already made enormous improvements, even before
they get the grant. And, ultimately, we had
to choose the top Youth CareerConnect initiatives. Today, I’m proud to say
that schools across America are putting up
some pretty impressive proposals. The winners across the
board are doing the kinds of stuff that will allow
other schools to start duplicating what
they’re doing. The winners in
Indianapolis are expanding their career prep programs
to encourage more young women and kids from
diverse backgrounds to join our science and
technology workforce. New York City likes that
Brooklyn high school model, P-TECH, so much
that they’re using their grant to fund two more
just like it, so that students can gain two
degrees at once and get the edge they need in
today’s high-tech, high-speed economy. And as I mentioned
earlier, one of our 24 winners is a
three-school team including your high school. Mustangs, you guys are
part of the team that won! (applause) That’s good. Now, in part, the reason
you won is because you guys were ahead
of the curve. You were already winning. For a couple years now,
your career academies have been integrating
classroom learning with ready-to-work skills, and
you’re preparing students to move directly into the
in-demand jobs of the future — jobs in IT
and biosciences and hospitality. And now you’re
stepping it up. You’re taking it
to another level. So in the classroom I just
visited, you had 10th graders — although
there was also a freshman — who are studying epidemiology
— the study of disease patterns and outbreaks. And they’re getting
potentially college-level credit for it, which is
good because they may be the young people who
discover a cure for some disease down the line
that we don’t even know about yet. I know our brilliant
scientists at the National Institutes of Health and
the Centers for Disease Control, they’d
be proud of you. They like looking
at bacteria. (laughter) And I got a
little worried when I went into the classroom —
everybody was wearing goggles and vests, and I
didn’t have my goggles. (laughter) But they
assured me it was safe. But some of you Mustangs
are pushing yourselves to get industry-recognized
certifications in nursing, while other students on
this winning team are studying cutting-edge
technology and getting hands-on internship
experience at local businesses. And we know these are
skills that will be in demand. Companies will come
looking to hire you because of the experiences
you’ve gotten here. If you’re focused, if
you’re working hard, you now have a platform so
that by the time you get out of high school you’re
already ahead of the game; you’re already in a
position where you’ve got some skills that
make you employable. And then you can just take
it further, whether it’s a two-year college or a
four-year college, or graduate school. Or there are a couple of
young ladies in there who said they want to
be neurosurgeons, psychiatrists. So you can build on these
careers, but the point is you have a baseline where
you know if you’re focused here at this school, doing
your work, you’re going to be able to find a job. And the grants that
you’ve won in this Youth CareerConnect competition
mean that the programs you’ve started are going
to expand, and you’re going to get more
college and career counseling to help get you a jump on your post-high school plans. So a little over
four years from now, Bladensburg and your
partner schools will graduate hundreds more
students with the knowledge and skills that
you’ll need to succeed. And that’s what we want for all the young people here. We want an education that
engages you; we want an education that equips
you with the rigorous and relevant skills for
college and for a career. And I’m confident —
meeting these young people, they
were incredible. And a couple of them
giggled a little bit when I walked in, but after
they kind of settled down — (laughter) — they were
— they knew their stuff, and they were enjoying it. And that’s part of the
message I’ve got for all the young
people here today, is your potential for success is so high as long as you stay
focused. As long as you’re clear
about your goals, you’re going to succeed. And my message to the
older people here — like me — is we’ve got a
collective responsibility to make sure that
you’re getting those opportunities. And there are resources
out there that we’ve got to pull into the
school setting. Businesses, foundations
around the country, they want to fund more
CareerConnect programs — because it’s in
their interest. They want good employees. They’re looking for
folks with skills. When you can say, hey, the
math that I’m doing here could change the way the
business operates; or, I see how this biology
experiment could help develop a drug that cures
a disease — that’s a door opening in your
imagination. It’s also good
for our economy. It’s good for
our businesses. That’s a new career path
you’re thinking about that allows you to pursue
higher education in that field, or the very
training you need to get a good job, or create a
new business that changes the world. That’s good for our
economy, it’s good for business, it’s
good for you, it’s good for America. As a country, we’ve got to
do everything we can to make sure that every
single young person here can have that “aha”
moment, that light bulb goes off and suddenly
you’re not just studying because your parents tell
you to or your teacher tells you to, you’re
studying because you know you’ve got
something to offer. And I want to make sure
every student in America has a chance to get
that moment — that realization that your education can not just unlock your future and
take you places you never imagined, but you’re also going
to be leading this country. That’s the chance that
this country gave to me and Michelle. And that’s the chance I
want for every single one of you. From preschool for every
four-year-old in America, to higher education for
everybody who wants to go, every young person
deserves a fair shot. And I’m going to keep on
doing everything I can to make sure you get that
shot and to keep America a place where you can
make it if you try. I’m proud of
your principal. I’m proud of your
superintendent. I’m proud of everybody who
got involved in making sure that you guys were
already doing the right thing before you won this
new grant — and I know it’s going to
be well-spent. Most of all, I’m
proud of the students. Thank you very
much, everybody. God bless you. (applause) Go, Mustangs! All right. (applause)

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