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Obama Calls for Big Education Reforms - More Charter Schools, Longer School Year

Barack Obama

The U.S. education system needs to undergo dramatic reform, President Obama said today -- with new investments but also with new policies.

"You can't defend a status quo in which a third of our kids are dropping out," the president said this morning during a live interview on NBC's "Today Show." "You can't defend a status quo when you've got 2,000 schools across the coutry that are drop out factories."

The Obama administration has introduced a sweeping set of education reforms -- some of which have met some resistance -- such as the $4 billion "Race to the Top" initiative. The program offers educational grants to states that meet certain reform criteria. The president today called it "probably the most powerful tool we've seen for reform in a couple of decades."

While $4 billion is a relatively small figure to spend on education, Mr. Obama said it's "enough to get people's attention."

Furthermore, he said, money alone is not the solution to education reform.

"Money without reform does not fix the problem," he said.

The president said he expects "Race to the Top" to continue to meet resistance from politicians whose states may not be getting aid immediately. He also acknowledged that other players, such as teachers unions, can act as barriers to reform. Yet he said that many unions are cooperating with states to improve their education plans.

"I'm a strong supporter of the notion a union can protect its members and be a part of the solution instead of the problem," he said.

Part of the administration's educational reforms also include plans to close the poorest performing 5 percent of schools in the nation, turning some of them into charter schools.

"There's no silver bullets here," the president said. However, he said, "There are some charters that have figured out how to do a very good job. What we've got to do is look at the success of these schools and find out how do we duplicate them... What I'm interested in ... is fostering these laboriteies of excellence."

But while he said the education system needs to be revamped, Mr. Obama added properly investing in education still plays an important role.

"Those who say money makes no difference are wrong," he said.

For instance, the administration is going to focus on training 10,000 new math and science teachers, Mr. Obama said. He also said spending money to keep schools open an additional month would be a wise investment.

"I think we should have longer school years," he said. "We now have our kids go to school about a month less than other advanced countries."

The president acknowledged his own daughters, Malia and Sasha, would not get the same quality of education in the Washington, D.C. public school system that they receive at the private school they currently attend in the District.

"The D.C. public school systems are struggling," he said.

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.