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Obama Links Education Goals, Economic Recovery

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President Barack Obama on Monday set new goals for improving the U.S. public education system, drawing a link between progress in strengthening the nation's public schools and the health of the U.S. economy.  

An appearance by the president on NBC television's Today Show spotlighted the administration's effort to recruit 10,000 new science, technology, engineering and math teachers during the next two years.

Since he was elected, the president has introduced major education reforms, including his "Race to the Top" initiative in which states compete to receive money from a $4 billion fund that is intended to encourage innovation and reform.

Mr. Obama described as "indefensible" what he called a status quo in which some 2,000 schools across the country are "drop out factories" - something he said that requires radical change.  He said that although most teachers want to do a good job, those who are underperforming should be fired.

"We have got to be able to identify teachers who are doing well.  Teachers who are not doing well - we have got to give them the support and the training to do well.  And ultimately, if some teachers are not doing a good job, they have got to go," he said.

Mr. Obama frequently has highlighted statistics showing U.S. students lagging far behind their counterparts in other nations in math and science.

On Monday, he called for strengthening teaching in these and other areas vital to preparing students to compete in a 21st century economy. "Part of the challenge, I think, for the entire country is to understand that how well we do economically.  Whether jobs are created here, high end jobs that support families and support the future of the American people, is going to depend on whether or not we can do something about these schools," the president said.

In a telephone conference with journalism students from several colleges, President Obama voiced hope that an improving U.S. economy will take some of the pressure off cash-strapped states that are struggling to support public education.

With majority Democrats in Congress facing a difficult political climate ahead of November midterm elections, Mr. Obama formally claimed a victory on Monday by signing legislation to provide small businesses with additional tax relief and loan opportunities.

But opposition Republicans, with their policy proposals called the "Pledge to America," and likely 2012 Republican presidential contenders such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, continue to assail his policies.

Romney spoke on Saturday at the convention of the New Hampshire Republican Party. "His policies, and his actions were the most anti-growth, anti-investment, anti-jobs policies we have seen in our time," he said.

The president has hit back, pointing to job growth from the approximately $800 billion economic stimulus program passed last year, support for small businesses, and the auto industry recovery.

But President Obama is facing low public approval ratings, with increasing questions about how much support Democrats can expect from Independents and young voters who were key to his victory in 2008.

Mr. Obama gave some indication of his concern about this as he concluded his telephone conference with college student journalists. "The energy that you were able to bring to our politics in 2008, that is needed not less now, it is needed more now," he said.

During the next two days, Mr. Obama will promote his administration's economic recovery and job growth efforts.  He is scheduled to travel to New Mexico, Iowa, Wisconsin and Virginia, before returning to the White House on Wednesday.

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