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Obama emphasizes early childhood education, praises Tennessee's progress

President Barack Obama speaks to a crowd at McGavock High School in Nashville on Jan. 30.

President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of early childhood education, praised Tennessee for its fast improvement in education in a speech he made at Nashville’s McGavock High School Jan. 30. 

The second-term president also insisted that every child in America should receive a world-class education.

“The idea of opportunity is at the heart of who we are as Americans,” said Obama. “If you work hard, you can make it in America and that’s the chance we have in this country.”

Five years ago, the administration implemented Race to the Top, a competition to promote innovation and reform in America’s schools. Tennessee was one of the first states to win the competition, which made the state eligible for federal funding to support new programs.

“You are actually the fastest-improving state in the nation,” Obama said, referring to recent enhancements to public-education system across Tennessee.

“You have given teachers more support, you have found new ways to identify and reward the best teachers, you have made huge strides in helping young people learn the skills they need for a new economy—skills like problem solving and critical thinking, science, technology, engineering and math. In Nashville alone, you boosted graduation rates by almost 20 percent.”

He also cited that throughout the nation, the high school graduation rate is the highest it’s been in 30 years, and “more young people are graduating from college than ever before.”

“We need to build on what works and reach more kids and have to do it faster,” Obama said. “There is no child that we should let slip because of politics and because adults can’t get their acts together.”

He emphasized the need for more access to early childhood education for all children throughout America.

“Research shows that high-quality early education is one of the best investments that we can make in a child’s life,” Obama said.

“For every dollar you put into early childhood education, taxpayers will save $7 because there will be fewer dropouts, fewer teen pregnancies and fewer incarcerations. Folks will get better jobs and pay more taxes. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Obama also stressed that good teachers are a critical element in providing a quality education.

“Young people do better when they are excited about learning,” he said, also citing the vast benefits of hands-on learning applied to the real world to spark engaged learners.

“Spirit doesn’t cost money.”

Obama also talked about creating opportunity through education for all regardless of one’s socioeconomic status.

“It shouldn’t be something only ‘those’ kids get,” he said.

He told about his childhood being raised by a single mother without a lot of money who was struggling to raise two kids.

“That’s’ why in my speech on Tuesday, I laid out an agenda that where we need to grow our economy for everybody, we need to strengthen the middle class; we’ve got to make it easier for folks to work their way into the middle class.”

Obama believes that creating more jobs and a more-educated workforce will create the conditions for all to have an opportunity to succeed. He outlined the four parts of achieving that goal.

“More new jobs, making sure folks have those skills to fill those jobs and making sure that we are rewarding hard work by living wage and incomes, and the thing I’m here to talk about is guaranteeing every young person the access to a world-class education.


Obama chose McGavock High School to visit because of its recent successes improving in academics and implementing innovative programs in partnership with higher education institutions, despite its location in an area of high poverty.

“I was very excited that President Obama came to Nashville to highlight the positive things going on at McGavock High School,” said Chris Polk, Chairman of the Williamson County Democratic Party.

“I also like that he acknowledged that no matter your economic background you have an opportunity in this country, and he emphasized building a stronger middle class, which is right on course.


However, Polk said that some decisions are holding back the state’s progress.

“Our colleagues across the aisle did not jump on board with the jobs bill the president set forth and did not expand Medicaid, denying affordable healthcare to Tennesseans and costing us more everyday, both of which are really holding us back,” Polk said.

“Also the president did point out that a student was killed this week at McGavock, and it was important that he highlighted that. Some on the left are gun owners, and we believe in common-sense gun legislation.”

Earlier this week, a 15-year-old student was shot and killed by a 17-year old classmate. Obama said that he and the First Lady are praying for the families.

“I am sorry that you lost a friend,” Obama said.

Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn issued the following statement in response to Obama’s speech:

“McGavock High students are fortunate to live in a state where they can learn, grow, and focus on their future from an early age. I'm glad President Obama highlighted the good things going on in education in Tennessee.

It's unfortunate, however, that even with the terrific skills and degrees in hand, the seniors at today's speech will be facing uncertainty due to this administration’s over-reaching policies and the effect of these policies on the job market. That is why I continue to work with my colleagues in the House to pass real solutions that get government out of the way and clears the path for the private sector to create jobs. It's time for the Senate and President Obama to work with House Republicans in our effort to get America's economy back on track.”

Elisa Parker of Franklin, Vice Chair Tennessee Democratic Party, attended the event Thursday and shared her thoughts about Obama’s speech.

“I was so pleased to be a part of welcoming President Obama to Tennessee twice within the last six months,” she said. “I think that shows his commitment to our state and the lives of Tennesseans. Contrary to what Congressman Marsha Blackburn had to say, a lot of Middle Tennessee’s growth and prosperity are directly attributable to the Obama Administration’s policies. Speaking as a realtor, I can testify that the market is bouncing back nicely, and we hope to be back in the booming market of the Clinton/Gore years soon.”

Parker also praised the educational efforts at McGavock High School.

“I am extremely proud to be a part of the greater community that is McGavock High School.  What a thrill for those students and a fitting testament to teachers.  To paraphrase President Obama, technology can take a student far, but there is nothing that can replace the dedication of a good teacher.

I hope that Governor Haslam and our republican legislature was listening, and will take that to heart when dealing with legislation regarding the pay, benefits and careers of Tennessee’s teachers."

Obama ended his speech with a hopeful tone that if America pulls together, it will benefit the children in the country.

“If we do our part to make sure that every single child can go as far as their passions and hard work will take them, then we will keep the American Dream alive, not just for your generation but for generations to come.

Posted on: 1/31/2014


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