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Posted at 11:38 AM ET, 02/19/2010

The problem with Obama’s commencement speech contest

By Valerie Strauss

President Obama is promising to give a commencement speech at the public high school that best demonstrates how it is helping prepare students to meet his goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

It’s not the idea of a contest that gives me pause. It’s the way this one is being run.

Obama’s contest isn’t really offering students a chance to compete for his oratory skills; it’s the adults in the building.

I am now envisioning school administrators across the country already making frantic plans to put together the best contest package they can, advertising their plans to get kids to graduate.

The contest is called the Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge, in line with Obama's $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant program in which states compete for money by presenting school reform programs that are in line with the thinking of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Critics, even some who supported Obama during the presidential campaign, have blasted Duncan’s plan to link teacher performance to student standardized test scores. Experts on testing say that such a link has no validity.

It will be interesting to see if the winning high school in this contest includes in its competition package plans to make such a link.

Meanwhile, Obama has already agreed to give commencement speeches this spring at the University of Michigan and Hampton University.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 19, 2010; 11:38 AM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, High School  | Tags:  president obama  
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