President Obama on Early Childhood Education

The President:
Hello, everybody! (applause) Well, it is great
to be in Georgia! (applause) Great to be in Decatur! (applause) I can't imagine a more romantic
way to spend Valentine's Day — (laughter) — than with all of you,
with all the press here. Actually, Michelle says hello. (applause) She made me promise to get back
in time for our date tonight. (laughter) That's important. That's important. I've already got a
gift, got the flowers. (applause) I was telling folks the flowers
are a little easier, though, because I've got
this Rose Garden. (laughter) Lot of people keeping
flowers around. I want to acknowledge a
few people who are here — first of all, Congressman
Hank Johnson is here. Where's Hank? (applause) Your Mayor, Jim
Baskett, is here. (applause) Another Mayor you may know
— Kasim Reed snuck in here. (applause) I want to acknowledge
the Decatur School Board, who I had a chance to meet and
has helped to do so much great work around here. (applause) Folks right here. And of course, I want to
thank Mary for the wonderful introduction and for teaching
me how to count earlier today. (laughter) I've got to tell you it
was wonderful to be there. I want to thank all the
teachers and the parents and the administrators of
Decatur City Schools, because behind every child who
is doing great there is a great teacher, and I'm proud of every
single one of you for the work that you do here today. (applause) Now, on Tuesday, I delivered
my State of the Union address. And I laid out a plan for
reigniting what I believe is the true engine of America's
economic growth, and that is a thriving,
growing, rising middle class. And that also means ladders
for people to get into the middle class. And the plan I put forward says
we need to make smart choices as a country — both to grow our
economy, shrink our deficits in a balanced way by cutting what
we don't need but then investing in the things that we do need to
make sure that everybody has a chance to get ahead in life. What we need is to make America
a magnet for new jobs by investing in
manufacturing, and energy, and better roads and
bridges and schools. We've got to make sure hard work
is rewarded with a wage that you can live on and
raise a family on. We need to make sure that we've
got shared responsibility for giving every American the chance
to earn the skills and education that they need for a really
competitive, global job market. As I said on Tuesday night, that
education has to start at the earliest possible age. And that's what you have
realized here in Decatur. (applause) Study after study shows that the
earlier a child begins learning, the better he or she
does down the road. But here's the thing: We are not
doing enough to give all of our kids that chance. The kids we saw today that I had
a chance to spend time with in Mary's classroom, they're
some of the lucky ones — because fewer than 3 in 10
four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can't
afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for the poor children
who need it the most, the lack of access to a great
preschool education can have an impact on their entire lives. And we all pay a price for that. And as I said, this
is not speculation. Study after study shows the
achievement gap starts off very young. Kids who, when they go into
kindergarten, their first day, if they already have a lot
fewer vocabulary words, they don't know their numbers
and their shapes and have the capacity for focus; you know,
they're going to be behind that first day. And it's very hard for
them to catch up over time. And then, at a certain point
— I bet a lot of teachers have seen this — kids aren't stupid. They know they're behind
at a certain point, and then they
start pulling back, and they act like they're
disinterested in school because they're frustrated that they're
not doing as well as they should, and then
you may lose them. And that's why,
on Tuesday night, I proposed working with
states like Georgia to make high-quality preschool available
to every child in America. Every child. (applause) Every dollar we invest in
high-quality early education can save more than seven
dollars later on — boosting graduation rates,
reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime. In states like Georgia that have
made it a priority to educate our youngest children,
states like Oklahoma, students don't just show up in
kindergarten and first grade more prepared to learn, they're
also more likely to grow up reading and doing
math at grade level, graduating from high
school, holding a job, even forming more
stable families. Hope is found in what works. This works. We know it works. If you are looking for a good
bang for your educational buck, this is it right here. (applause) That's why, even in
times of tight budgets, states like Georgia and Oklahoma
have worked to make a preschool slot available for nearly every
parent who is looking for one for their child. And they're being staffed
with folks like Mary — qualified, highly
educated teachers. This is not babysitting. This is teaching. (applause) So at the age that our children
are just sponges soaking stuff in, their minds are
growing fastest, what we saw in the classroom
here today was kids are taught numbers, they're taught
shapes, but also how to answer questions, discover patterns,
play well with others. And the teachers who
were in the classroom, they've got a coach who's coming
in and working with them on best practices and paying attention
to how they can constantly improve what they're doing. And that whole playing well
with others, by the way, is a trait we could
use more in Washington. (applause) So maybe we need to
bring the teachers up — (applause) — every once in a while
have some quiet time. (laughter) Time out. (laughter) So at the College Heights Early
Childhood Learning Center that I visited earlier today, nearly
200 little kids are spending full days learning in classrooms
with highly qualified teachers. (applause) And so I was working with them
to build towers and replicate sculptures and sing songs. And, look, I've got to admit, I
was not always the fastest guy on some of this stuff. The kids were beating
me to the punch. But through this interactive
learning, they're learning math, writing, how to tell stories. And one of the things that
you've done here in Decatur that's wonderful also is, is
that you've combined kids from different income levels; you've
got disabled kids all in the same classroom, so we're
all learning together. (applause) And what that means is, is that
all the kids are being leveled up, and you're not seeing some
of that same stratification that you see that eventually leads to
these massive achievement gaps. So before you know it, these
kids are going to be moving on to bigger and better
things in kindergarten, and they're going to be
better prepared to succeed. And what's more, I don't think
you'll find a working parent in America who wouldn't appreciate
the peace of mind that their child is in a safe, high-quality
learning environment every single day. (applause) Michelle and I remember how
tough it can be to find good childcare. I remember how expensive
it can be, too. The size of your
paycheck, though, shouldn't determine
your child's future. (applause) So let's fix this. (applause) Let's make sure none of our
kids start out the race of life already a step behind. Let's make it a national
priority to give every child access to a high-quality
early education. Let's give our kids that chance. Now, I do have to warn the
parents who are here who still have young kids — they grow
up to be, like, 5'10" — (laughter) — and even if they're
still nice to you, they basically don't have a
lot of time for you during the weekends. (laughter) They have sleepovers
and — dates. (laughter) So all that early investment — (laughter) — just leads them to go away. (laughter) Now, what I also said on Tuesday
night is that our commitment to our kids' education has to
continue throughout their academic lives. So from the time our
kids start grade school, we need to equip them with the
skills they need to compete in a high-tech economy. That's why we're working to
recruit and train 100,000 new teachers in the fields
of the future — in science and technology, and
engineering and math where we are most likely to fall behind. We've got to redesign our high
schools so that a diploma puts our kids on a path
to a good job. (applause) We want to reward schools that
develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and
create classes that focus on science and technology,
and engineering and math — all the things that can help our
kids fill those jobs that are there right now but
also in the future. And obviously, once our kids
graduate from high school, we've got to make sure that
skyrocketing costs don't price middle-class families out
of a higher education — (applause) — or saddle them with
unsustainable debt. I mean, some of the younger
teachers who are here, they've chosen a career
path that is terrific, but let's face it, you don't
go into teaching to get rich. (laughter) And it is very important that we
make sure that they can afford to get a great education and
can choose to be a teacher, can choose to be in a
teaching profession. (applause) So we've worked to make college
more affordable for millions of students and families already
through tax credits and grants and loans that go
farther than before. But taxpayers can't keep
subsidizing ever-escalating price tags for higher education. At some point you
run out of money. So colleges have
to do their part. And colleges that don't do
enough to keep costs in check should get less federal support
so that we're incentivizing colleges to think about how
to keep their costs down. And just yesterday, we released
what we're calling a new "College Scorecard" that gives
parents and students all the information they need to
compare schools by value and affordability so that they
can make the best choice. And any interested
parent, by the way, who's out there can check
it out at (applause) Now, in the end, that's
what this is all about — giving our kids the best
possible shot at life; equipping them with the skills,
education that a 21st century economy demands; giving them
every chance to go as far as their hard work and God-given
potential will take them. That's not just going to
make sure that they do well; that will strengthen our economy
and our country for all of us. Because if their
generation prospers, if they've got the skills
they need to get a good job, that means businesses
want to locate here. And it also means, by the
way, they're well-equipped as citizens with the critical
thinking skills that they need in order to help
guide our democracy. We'll all prosper that way. That's what we're fighting for. They're the ones who are going
to write that next great chapter in the American story, and we've
got to make sure that we're providing that investment. I am so proud of every single
teacher who is here who has dedicated their lives to making
sure those kids get a good start in life. I want to make sure
that I'm helping, and I want to make sure that the
country is behind you every step of the way. Thank you, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (applause)

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