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Originally published March 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 11, 2009 at 8:42 AM

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Obama presses for longer school year

President Obama said Tuesday that American children should go to school longer — either stay later in the day or into the summer — if they're going to have any chance of competing for jobs and paychecks against foreign kids.

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Tuesday that American children should go to school longer — either stay later in the day or into the summer — if they're going to have any chance of competing for jobs and paychecks against foreign kids.

"We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day," Obama said, adding U.S. education to his already-crowded list of top priorities.

"That calendar may have once made sense, but today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea. That is no way to prepare them for a 21st-century economy.

"I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas, not with Malia and Sasha," Obama said, referring to his daughters, as the crowd laughed.

"But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.

"If they can do that in South Korea, we can do it right here in the United States of America."

"Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short and other nations outpace us," Obama said. "In eighth-grade math, we've fallen to ninth place. Singapore's middle-schoolers outperform ours 3-to-1. Just a third of our 13- and 14-year-olds can read as well as they should."

Among his proposals: extra pay for better teachers, something opposed by teachers unions.

"It is time to start rewarding good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones," he said in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Teachers groups applauded Obama's speech, largely sidestepping the thorny question of merit pay.

"Teachers want to make a difference in kids' lives, and they appreciate a president who shares that goal and will spend his political capital to provide the resources to make it happen," said Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers.

Also

More than 8,800 teachers and other employees of the nation's second-largest school district will receive notices of impending layoffs for the next school year, Los Angeles School Board members decided Tuesday. The district, with 688,000 students, faces a $718 million budget shortfall.

Additional information from The Associated Press

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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