Columbia, SC | July 26, 2007
I want to start by thanking your President, Lauren Wolfe, for the leadership you bring to this organization and to students all across America. I'd also like to thank your Vice President, Awais Khaleel, and your Executive Director, LaToia Jones.
I'd like to give a special shout-out to two other College Democrat leaders who I am lucky enough to have working on my campaign - Bess Evans is an organizer for us in Iowa and Ashley Baia is organizing for us right here in South Carolina. And I'd like to especially thank the couple hundred of you who have joined my College Democrats Steering Committee. This is an unprecedented show of support and we're very grateful to have it.
But mostly I want to thank every student here for the work you're doing all across the country. You are organizing campuses, you are registering new voters, and you are breathing new life into a politics that has never needed it more, and for that you should all be very proud.
Each of you has made the decision to come here and get involved for a reason. Maybe you want to make sure the college education you're receiving will lead to a good job that can pay off all those loans. Maybe you're tired of watching our planet polluted and our climate changed forever because you know that you and your children will be the ones dealing with it.
Maybe you've traveled abroad and heard people belittle America, and maybe you felt angry because you know we're a better country than this - you know we're not a country that tortures people or locks them away without ever telling them why. You know we're not a country that alienates our allies and rejects diplomacy with our enemies. We're better than that.
Or maybe you're here because you had to say goodbye to a friend or a classmate when they left to fight this war in Iraq. You know how brave they are, and you know they've done everything that's been asked of them, but you also know one other thing - you know that this is a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged, and it's time for that friend to come home.
But no matter what the reason is that brought you here, you came because you believe that we can change all this. You believe what was said about this country in the earliest days of our revolution - that we have it within our power to begin the world anew.
I want you to know that's why I'm here too. That's what I have believed all my life. And that's why I'm running for President of the United States.
I know it's not an easy proposition to believe. Especially today. Not when our politics is more concerned with who's up and who's down than who's working to solve the challenges facing our generation. Not when our politicians allow the oil companies to control our energy policy, and the insurance companies to control our health care policy, and whoever's got the most money and influence to control the agenda in Washington. And not when we've got a 24-hour news cycle that never fails to keep us posted on how many days Paris Hilton will spend in jail but doesn't always cover the continuing genocide in Darfur or the recovery effort in New Orleans or the poverty that plagues too many American streets.
You see all this and it's easy to become cynical - to believe these same pundits when they say that the youth vote doesn't really matter; that college students don't register to vote and when they do, they never go to the polls anyway. And so it's easy to just stay home and give in to the proposition that one person really can't make a difference after all.
Don't believe it. If there's one thing I've learned in my own life, it's that when you stop listening to the cynics and start trying to make that difference, extraordinary things can happen. A few years after I graduated from college I had this crazy idea that I wanted to be a community organizer. My friends had all applied for jobs on Wall Street and my mother and grandparents thought I should go to law school. But I went ahead and wrote letters to every organization in the country that I could think of. And finally, this small group of churches on the south side of Chicago wrote back and gave me a job for $12,000 a year helping to turn around neighborhoods that had been devastated by steel-plant closings.
And I can still remember the conversation I had with an older man I had met before I moved to Chicago. I told him about my plans, and he looked at me and said, "Let me tell something. You look like a nice clean-cut young man, and you've got a nice voice. So let me give you a piece of advice - forget this community organizing business. You can't change the world, and people won't appreciate you trying. What you should do is go into television broadcasting. I'm telling you, you've got a future."
Now, no offense to my friends with the microphones in the back of the room, but boy am I glad I didn't listen to that old man.
I kept going to Chicago, and when I got there and saw the joblessness and hopelessness that existed in those neighborhoods, I knew my job wouldn't be easy.
But I worked hard to build coalitions with all kinds of community leaders, and we kept working, and we set up child care and job training programs, and we taught people to stand up to their government when it wasn't standing up for them. We didn't change the world, but we changed those neighborhoods, and I proved that old man wrong.
And I've done the same thing ever since.
When I got to the Illinois state Senate, people said it was too tough to take on the issue of money in politics - that I couldn't do anything about a law that actually allowed politicians to pocket the money in their campaign accounts for personal use. But I brought people together, and I found a few folks on the other side of the aisle who were willing to listen, and we passed the first major ethics reform in twenty-five years.
People told me I couldn't reform a death penalty system that had sent 13 innocent people to death row. But we did that. They told me that trying to pass laws to stop racial profiling would stir up too much controversy. But we did that too.
They doubted whether we could put government back on the side of average people - but we put tax cuts in the pockets of the working families who needed them instead of the folks who didn't. And I passed health care reform that insured another 150,000 children and parents.
So I want you to know that I've been where you are. I looked at the world as a young man and I wanted to make a difference. And I was often told that change wasn't possible. But I learned that it was, I believe that it still is, and I'm ready to join you in changing the course that we're on by bringing a new generation of leadership to the United States of America.
The reason this President has failed to lead our country is because he has not been able to unite our country. He has polarized us when he could've pulled us together. He has put what's right for his friends and supporters ahead of what's right for America.
That's why the experience we need in the next President is the ability to bring this country together; to find common ground so we can meet common challenges.
That's the kind of experience I will bring to the White House. I know it's not enough to just change parties or even presidents. I know that to truly change the way Washington works, we need to build a movement of everyday Americans who are committed to that change long after the last ballot is counted.
And that's what we're doing in this campaign. We've had more people sign up and contribute than any other campaign in history. We've had countless people show up at our events who are coming to the first political event of their lifetime. They are young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight, black, white, Latino, and Asian.
These Americans are saying it's time for a change. It's time to turn the page. It's time for a new generation of leadership in Washington.
It's time for a new generation of leadership to solve this health care crisis once and for all. It's time to move past the failed debates of yesterday, bring everyone to the table, and finally let the drug and insurance companies know that while they get a seat at that table, the don't get to buy every chair.
I have a universal health care plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by up to $2500 a year. It's a plan that lets the uninsured buy insurance that's similar to the kind members of Congress give themselves. If you can't afford that, you'll get a subsidy to pay for it. And here's something we included after hearing about it from young people across the country - if you graduate and don't find a job that provides health insurance right away, you'll be able to stay on your parents' insurance until you're twenty-five. I can't promise they'll let you live at home for that long, but I can promise you this - I will sign this universal health care bill by the end of my first term in office as your President. It's time to get that done.
It's time for a new generation of leadership to make college more affordable for any American who wants to go. It's time to tell all those private lenders and banks that we're not going to give them eight billion in taxpayer dollars every year so that they can bribe colleges to get business giving students loans at inflated prices. We're not going to make college an unaffordable opportunity or saddle our students with a lifetime of debt. It's time to end those high-priced loans and use the savings to help more kids afford a college education. And it's time we had a President who fights for that proposal instead of threatening to veto it. The very first bill I introduced when I got to the U.S. Senate was a bill to make college more affordable and provide more grants to students. That's the kind of leadership we need.
It's time for a new generation of leadership to save our generation from global catastrophe. It's time to tell the auto and oil industry lobbyists that they don't get to stand in the way of higher fuel standards, and renewable sources of energy, and lower carbon emissions anymore. It's time to let them know that our economy, our security, and our planet come before their profits.
As President, I will place a cap on carbon emissions, and require companies who can't meet the cap to buy credits from those who can. This will generate millions of dollars to invest in renewable sources of energy and create new jobs and even a new industry in the process. I'll put in place a low-carbon fuel standard that will take 50 million cars' worth of pollution off the road. And I'd raise the fuel efficiency standards for our cars and trucks because we know we have the technology to do it and it's time we did.
And one more thing. It is time for a new generation of leadership to end this war in Iraq and restore American leadership in the world.
I opposed this war back in 2002 when I was running for the United States Senate. And people told me that position might cost me the election. But I believed then that being a leader means that you do what's right and leave the politics aside because you don't get a do-over on an issue as important as war.
I introduced a plan in January that would've already started bringing our troops home by now, with the goal of bringing all combat brigades home by March 31st, 2008.
George Bush vetoed a bipartisan plan just like that - but he doesn't get the last word here. We are fifteen votes away in the Senate from ending this war without him. So we need to keep turning up the pressure on all those Republican Congressmen and Senators who aren't voting the right way. And I'm asking you all to help me with this. You can help bring this war to an end. Some of these Senators are already changing their mind. So I need you to call them up, and write them, and tell them that if they don't switch their votes on Iraq, you'll be switching your votes next November.
It's time to start getting our troops out of Iraq so we can start focusing on the growing threat from al Qaeda - because we can't win a war against the terrorists if we're on the wrong battlefield.
It's time to turn the page on the era of Bush-Cheney diplomacy and reach out to the rest of the world again. Refusing to engage in tough, smart diplomacy with world leaders we don't like doesn't show your strength, it shows your stubbornness, and we don't need another eight years of that.
Whether it's terrorism or climate change, global AIDS or the spread of weapons of mass destruction, America cannot meet the threats of this new century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. It's time for America to show the world that we're still the last, best hope of Earth. It's time for America to lead again, and we need a new generation of leadership to make that happen.
That's where you come in. This country needs you. As someone who is ready to serve as your next President, I need you. We need your energy, your enthusiasm, and your commitment to this movement for change. We need you to get involved, and join or start up a Students for Obama chapter of your own, and I'd like to especially ask each of you to go back to your college campuses and register ten, or fifteen, or fifty new voters. I led a voter registration drive when I wasn't much older than you and we registered 150,000 new voters when no one thought it was possible. So let's prove the cynics wrong again. Let's show them you do make a difference - that your vote does count - that America better start listening to the next generation of Americans.
This is our moment to make a difference.
Throughout America's story, there have been some generations that just fade into history, and others that have changed the course of that history forever.
In the face of secession and slavery, a generation answered their President's call to the better angels of our nature by saving a union and freeing a people.
In the face of Depression and fascism, a generation answered a leader who said that fear itself was the only thing standing our way by conquering that fear, lifting our nation from despair, and liberating a continent.
In the face of inequality and injustice, a generation answered a King's dream of brotherhood by taking Freedom Rides, and sitting at lunch counters, and marching in the streets until justice rolled down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
And now, in this election, it is our generation's turn to answer this call. It is our turn to write a new chapter in the America story. Let's write that next chapter. Let's turn that next page. Let's bring a new generation of leadership to America, and let's change this country together. Thank you.
Miami, FL | July 22, 2007
I have been running for President now for a little over five months. And in that time, I have been inspired by crowds tens of thousands of people strong - many who have come out for the very first political event of their lifetime. We have seen more Americans sign up and contribute so far than any other campaign in history. They are young and old, Republican and Democrat, white, and Black, and Latino.
I'd like to take the all the credit here myself, but as my wife reminds me every day, I'm just not that great.
The real reason that so many people are coming out and signing up is because they see in this campaign the potential for the change Americans are so hungry for. It's not just the kind of change you hear about in slogans or from politicians every few years; it's the kind of bottom-up, grassroots movement that can transform a nation.
La Raza has always represented this kind of movement. You didn't get your start as some top-down interest group in Washington, you got your start standing up for the dreams and aspirations of Latinos in farm fields and barrios all across America.
You got your start almost forty years ago in places like southern California, where farm workers and their children were beaten because they asked for the right to organize - because they believed that picking grapes all day in the hot sun should be rewarded with a decent wage and protection from deadly pesticides.
And when a man named Cesar Chavez saw this injustice, he knew it wasn't right and so he went about organizing those workers. And one fateful day he decided to draw the eyes of the nation to their cause by sitting down for a hunger strike. He went without food for twenty-five days, and at one point he received a telegram from an Atlanta preacher who was busy leading his own strike of sanitation workers all the way in Memphis, Tennessee.
The telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Cesar Chavez said this: "As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members... Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity."
Our separate struggles are really one. It was a belief that Dr. King repeated often when he would say that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It means that the Civil Rights Movement wasn't just a movement of African-Americans, but Latino Americans, and white Americans, and every American who believes that equality and opportunity are not just words to be said but promises to be kept. The Civil Rights Movement was your movement too, and its unfinished work is still the task of every American.
Our separate struggles are really one. If there's a child stuck in a crumbling school who graduates without ever learning how to read, it doesn't matter if that child is a Latino from Miami or an African-American from Chicago or a white girl from rural Kentucky - she is our child, and her struggle is our struggle.
It doesn't matter if the injustice involves a brown man who's badgered into proving his citizenship again and again or a black man who's pulled over because the car he's driving is too nice - it's injustice either way and we all have a role in ending it.
Whether you're one of the 45 million Americans without health care in this country, or the one in five African Americans, or the one in three Latinos, it will take all of us to stand up to a drug and insurance industry that spent $1 billion in lobbying to block health care reform. That's the kind of movement we need in America.
It won't be enough to change parties in this election if we don't also change a politics that has tried to divide us for far too long. Because when we spend all our time keeping score of who's up and who's down, the only winners are those who can afford to play the game - those with the most money, and influence, and power.
That's why right now, the experience we need in the next President is the proven ability to bring people to the table and get things done. We need a leader who's willing to tell the lobbyists and special interests that while they get a seat at that table, the days of them buying every chair are over.
I'm running for President because I have been that kind of leader my entire life.
I was too young to participate in the Civil Right Movement, but I was inspired by leaders like King and Chavez to become a community organizer. Almost twenty-five years ago, I was hired by a group of churches on the South Side of Chicago to help turn around neighborhoods that had been devastated by the closing of nearby steel plants.
I knew that change wouldn't be easy, but I also knew it would be impossible without bringing folks together and building a movement within the community. So I reached out and formed coalitions between Latino leaders and Black leaders on every issue from failing schools to illegal dumping to unimmunized children. And together, we made progress. We set up job training and after school programs, and we taught people on the South Side to stand up to their government when it wasn't standing up for them.
But I didn't stop there. When all the cynics said it wasn't possible, I kept building coalitions and making progress throughout my eight years in the Illinois state Senate.
They told me I couldn't reform a death penalty system that had sent 13 innocent people to death row. But we did that. They told me that trying to pass new racial profiling laws to protect black folks and brown folks would stir up too much controversy. But we did that too. And they doubted whether we could put government back on the side of average people - but we put $100 million worth of tax cuts in the pockets of the low-income workers and passed health care reform that insured another 150,000 children and parents.
So I want you to remember one thing, because you'll be hearing from a lot of candidates today. When I talk about hope; when I talk about change; when I talk about holding America up to its ideals of opportunity and equality, this isn't just the rhetoric of a campaign for me, it's been the cause of my life - a cause I will work for and fight for every day as your President.
I will be a President who remembers that our separate struggles are really one. I will never walk away from the tough battles or the difficult work of bringing people together. And I will never walk away from the 12 million undocumented immigrants who live, work, and contribute to our country every single day.
There are few better examples of how broken, bitter, and divisive our politics has become than the immigration debate that played out in Washington a few weeks ago.
So many of us - Democrats and Republicans - were willing to compromise in order to pass comprehensive reform that would secure our borders while giving the undocumented a chance to earn their citizenship.
We knew that the American people believe that we are a nation of laws - that we have a right and duty to protect our borders. And we should also crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers so that we can protect jobs and wages.
But the American people also know that we are a nation of immigrants - a nation that has always been willing to give weary travelers from around the world the chance to come here and reach for the dream that so many of us have reached for. That's the America that answered my father's letters and his prayers and brought him here from Kenya so long ago. That's the America we believe in.
But that's the America that the President and too many Republicans walked away from when the politics got tough. Now, there are plenty of people opposed to immigration reform for principled reasons that I happen to disagree with. But this time around, we saw parts of the immigration debate took a turn that was both ugly and racist in a way we haven't seen since the struggle for civil rights.
Well we didn't walk away from injustice then and we won't walk away from it today. I'll keep fighting, and I'll keep attending immigration rallies, and I'll keep believing that we can have a civil debate about immigration where we begin to recognize ourselves in one another. And when I'm President, I will put comprehensive immigration reform back on the nation's agenda and I will not rest until it is passed once and for all.
But you and I know that the struggle we share goes far beyond immigration. We don't expect our government to guarantee success and happiness, but when millions of children start the race of life so far behind only because of race, only because of class, that's a betrayal of our ideals. That's not just a Latino problem or an African-American problem; that is an American problem that we have to solve.
It's an American problem when Latinos are the most likely to be uninsured even though they make up a disproportionate share of the workforce. It's an American problem when one in four Latinos cannot communicate well with their doctor about what's wrong or fill out medical forms because there are language barriers we refuse to break down. It's an American problem that our health care system is broken and it's time to fix it once and for all.
I have a universal health care plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by up to $2500 a year. It's a plan that lets the uninsured buy insurance that's similar to the kind members of Congress give themselves. If you can't afford that, you'll get a subsidy to pay for it. And it goes further than any other proposed plan in cutting the cost of health care by investing in technology and preventive care, breaking the stranglehold the drug and insurance industries have on the health care market, and helping business and families shoulder the cost of the most expensive conditions so that an illness doesn't lead to a bankruptcy. And I promise you this - I will sign this universal health care plan by the end of my first term in office as your President. Count on it.
It's also time for this country to keep the promise of a world-class education for every child, because it's an American problem when nearly half of all Latino students do not receive a high school diploma. It's an American problem when too many of these students who want to learn English don't have the resources to learn English and are punished as a result.
Let's give our kids everything they could possibly need to have a fighting chance. Let's not pass a law called No Child Left Behind and then leave the money behind. Let's finally invest in what makes the most difference in any child's education - the person standing in the front of the classroom. As President, I will launch a campaign to recruit hundreds of thousands of new teachers across the country, and I'll pay them like the professionals they are. And let's make sure any child who comes here and studies here and does well in school gets the same chance to attend a public college as anyone else. I helped pass the DREAM Act in Illinois, and I will do the same as President.
And there's one other thing we can do. For millions of Latinos and other Americans, the cornerstone of the American Dream is the ability to own your own home. You work hard for it, and you save for it, and you're willing to sacrifice to buy it.
But there is an army of lenders and brokers out there who are ready and willing to take advantage of your hopes and cheat you out of your dream. They lurk in your neighborhoods and sometimes they even come into your churches and they offer you these subprime mortgage loans. They make them sound easy and affordable and they tell you to ignore the fine print and ask you to sign on the dotted line.
Your first couple of payments are ok, but then after months go by, the cost of your monthly payment starts jumping. Then it jumps some more. Pretty soon you're paying almost all of your income on your housing payments. And eventually, you're forced to foreclose on your dream. And the worst part is that the lenders knew this would happen from day one.
A recent report showed that 2.2 million sub-prime loans made in recent years have failed or will end in foreclosure, costing homeowners as much as $164 billion. Latinos hold up to 40 percent of these mortgages. African Americans hold over half. This is no accident. These loans are discriminatory, they are dishonest, and it's time for us to treat these fraudulent lenders like the criminals that they are.
When I am President, I will make law the legislation I've already introduced that would crack down on lenders and brokers found guilty of fraud by increasing enforcement and creating new criminal penalties.
We'd also do more to protect homeowners from fraud in the first place by providing them counseling so they get the advice they need both before and after they buy their home. We'll even create an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand measurement called the HOME score that lets you figure out exactly what a mortgage will cost you both initially and down the road. No one should get tricked into losing their home so that some loan shark can make a profit, and I will make sure of that as your President. We can do that.
You know, a couple of years ago, right around the time of the first immigration debate, I attended a naturalization workshop at a church in Chicago. I walked down the aisle of the church and met people who were clutching their American flags, waiting to be called up so they could start the long process of becoming citizens.
At one point, a little girl came up to me and asked me for my autograph. She said her name was Cristina, that she was studying government, and wanted to show the autograph to her third grade class. I told her parents they should be proud of her. And as I watched Cristina translate my words into Spanish for them, I thought for a moment about Dr. King's telegram to Cesar Chavez, and I knew that, in the end, our separate dreams are really one as well. It's the dream my father had when he arrived here from Kenya. The dream Cristina's parents had for her. And the dream that I have for my own two daughters.
I chose a career in public service almost twenty-five years ago because each night that I tuck them in, I realize that their chances in life depend on our ability to create a country where what they look like and where they come from has no bearing on what they can become. That's what has guided my life's work, and if you give me the chance, that's exactly the kind of country I will work for as your President. I ask you to give me that chance. Thank you.
Philadelphia, PA | July 05, 2007
Over the last few years, I've been traveling to different schools and meeting with all kinds of educators to hear about what's working, what's not, what makes the difference when it comes to educating children today.
I've gained a lot of valuable insight from these visits, but one I'll always remember is my trip to Dodge Elementary School in my hometown of Chicago. I was talking to one of the young teachers there about the challenges they faced, and she mentioned what she called the "These Kids Syndrome" - the willingness of society to find a million excuses for why "these kids" can't learn. It's the idea that "these kids come from tough backgrounds" or that "these kids are too far behind." And after awhile, "these kids" become somebody else's problem.
Then she said to me, "When I hear that term, it drives me nuts. They're not 'these kids.' They're our kids."
Our kids are why all of you are in this room today. Our kids are why you wake up wondering how you'll make a difference and go to bed thinking about tomorrow's lesson plan. Our kids are why you walk into that classroom every day even when you're not getting the support, or the pay, or the respect that you deserve - because you believe that every child should have a chance to succeed; that every child can be taught.
You've made our kids your life's work. And I believe it's time we put that work at the center of our politics once more.
We have never been a "these kids" country. From the earliest days of our founding, we have believed in Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "...talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition."
It is this belief that led our country to set up the first free public schools in small New England towns. It's a promise we kept as we moved from a nation of farms to factories and created a system of public high schools so that everyone had the chance to succeed in the new economy; one we expanded after World War II, when we sent over two million returning heroes to college on the GI Bill.
And even when America fell short of this ideal and forced Linda Brown to walk miles to a dilapidated Topeka school because of the color of her skin; even then, ordinary people marched and bled, they took to the streets and fought in the courts until the arrival of nine little children at a Little Rock school made real the decision that in America, separate could never be equal. And no matter what the Supreme Court said last week, that's still true today.
The ideal of a public education has always been at the heart of the American promise. It's why we are committed to fixing and improving our public schools instead of abandoning them and passing out vouchers. Because in America, it's the promise of a good education for all that makes it possible for any child to transcend the barriers of race or class or background and achieve their God-given potential.
That's how America works. That's how we've met each challenge that has come our way. We rise together, as one people. And together is how teachers, education support professionals, students, and the American people will meet the challenges we face today.
We now live in a world where the most valuable skill you can sell is knowledge. Revolutions in technology and communication have created an entire economy of high-tech, high-wage jobs that can be located anywhere there's an internet connection. And today, a child in Philadelphia is not only competing for jobs with one in Boston, but thousands more in Bangalore and Beijing who are being educated longer and better than ever before.
In the 21st century, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and America is already in danger of falling behind. We now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. By 12th grade, our children score lower on their math and science tests than most other kids in the developed world. Sixty percent of African-American fourth graders are unable to read at a basic level, and today only 9% of low-income students will graduate from college.
Forty or fifty years ago, students who had trouble in school might have gone on to find a factory job that could pay the bills and support a family. But we no longer live in that world. Today, the average salary of a high school graduate is only $33,000 a year. For high school dropouts, it's even closer to the poverty line - just $25,000 a year. And sadly, some folks here aren't paid that much and that's wrong.
This is not only morally unacceptable for our children; it is economically untenable for our nation. And it means that today, the work you do and the difference you make has never been more important to the future of this country.
In fact, new evidence shows that from the moment our children step into a classroom, the single most important factor in determining their achievement is not the color of their skin or where they come from; it's not who their parents are or how much money they have.
It's who their teacher is. It's you. It's you who can reach the most challenging students. It's you who will stay past the last bell and spend your own money on books and supplies. It's you who will go beyond the call because you believe that's what makes the extra difference. And it does.
But you can't do it alone, and it's about time that Washington realized that. For too long, our politics has been stuck in a cycle where we praise our educators in speeches and photo-ops, but then abandon them when it comes time to offer the resources and the support you need to do your jobs.
There's no better example of this neglect than the law that has become one of the emptiest slogans in the history of politics - No Child Left Behind.
Now, we all know that the goals of this law were the right ones. We know that making a promise to educate every child with an excellent teacher is right. We know that accountability and standards are right. We know that it's right to close the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and towns, and that it's right to focus on the inequitable distribution of resources and qualified teachers in our schools. We didn't need some words in a law to tell us this, we already knew it, and every one of us is still willing to do whatever it takes to make these goals a reality.
But don't come up with this law called No Child Left Behind and then leave the money behind. Don't tell us that you'll put high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leave the support and the pay for those teachers behind. Don't label a school as failing one day and then throw your hands up and walk away from it the next. And don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test. We know that's not true. You didn't devote your lives to testing, you devoted them to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do.
This is what I'll be trying to leave behind when No Child Left Behind comes before the Senate for renewal, and if we don't fix the law then, I can assure you this - I will when I'm President. Let's leave behind that empty slogan.
But I'll also say this - fixing the worst aspects of No Child Left Behind is just a starting point. The status quo is still unacceptable for teachers and students. In the face of a global economy where too many children start behind and stay behind, this country doesn't need more blame or inaction or half-measures on education. What we need is a historic commitment to America's teachers, and that's the kind of commitment I intend to make as President.
We know that we have more than one million teachers who are set to retire and more kids entering school than ever before, and so we know that it's time to recruit a new generation of teachers and principals. Let's do this by finally raising salaries across the board, and making it possible for professionals in other fields to become teachers, not through easy shortcuts, but through programs that allow new teachers to learn from veteran professionals. And if you're willing to put yourself through college to make the sacrifice and commitment that teaching requires, we should be willing to help you pay off some of those college loans.
In the coming weeks, I'll be laying out the specific details of my plan to invest billions of new dollars into the teaching profession and recruit an army of well-trained, well-qualified teachers who are willing to stand at the front of any classroom and give every student the chance to succeed.
My view is this - if we truly believe that educators are the essential professionals that we know you are, then it's time we rewarded, and supported, and honored the professional excellence you show every day.
We know what we need to do here.
We also know that right now, we need the best teachers in the most challenging classrooms - those underserved, underachieving schools in parts of rural and urban America where we need to make "these kids" "our kids" again.
I believe in collective bargaining, and I believe that any time you're talking about wages, workers have to be at the table.
So let's make a promise right now that if you're a teacher or a principal doing the hard work of educating our children, we will reward that work with the salary increase that you deserve. If you're willing to teach in a high-need subject like math or science or special education, we'll pay you even more.
If you're willing to take on more responsibilities like mentoring, we'll pay you more.
And if you excel at helping your students achieve success, your success will be valued and rewarded as well. Here's the key: we can find new ways to increase pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them and not based on some arbitrary test score. That's how we're going to close the achievement gap that exists in this country and that's how we're going to start treating teachers like the professionals you are.
I commend the work you've done in Minnesota with the Governor there to craft an innovative pay system that not only values your performance in the classroom, but the performance of your students as well. You helped craft it and you and your students benefit from it.
We also know that when it comes to struggling schools, it's not just how much you're getting paid that matters, but how much support you're getting to do your job. We know that when you pair experienced, mentor teachers with new teachers, those new teachers are much more likely to stay in the profession. So let's make sure we start developing more mentor teachers so we can start recruiting and keeping the new generation of teachers we need.
And while we're at it, let's work with teachers and principals to finally develop assessments that teach our kids to become more than just good test-takers. The goal of educational testing should be the same as medical testing - to diagnose a student's needs so you can help address them. Tests should not be designed as punishment for teachers and students, they should be used as tools to help prepare our children to grow and compete in a knowledge economy. Tests should support learning, not just accounting.
One last point. There's a lot of talk out there about accountability in education. I share that concern, and I've called for more accountability in our schools myself. But I also believe that before we can hold our teachers accountable for the results our schools need, we have to hold ourselves accountable for giving teachers the support that they need. That's where accountability starts with a government that puts its money where its mouth is, and parents and community members who instill the value of education in their students. I am tired of hearing teachers blamed for our collective failures.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to take a bus ride with a group of Iowa teachers and discuss their thoughts on education. Afterwards, one teacher said, "I don't think any teacher minds being accountable when the measuring tool is fair to educators and not about satisfying unrealistic goals."
She's right. If we do all this - if we go into struggling schools and provide more pay and better support for our teachers; if we allow them to teach our children to their strengths instead of just a test - then the teachers I've met wouldn't mind some accountability.
But we need to start doing our part first. When it comes to education in America, we need to start holding ourselves accountable. This goes for our government and our leaders. It also goes for parents. There is no policy or program that can substitute for a parent who is deeply involved in their child's education from day one - who is willing to turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child, or help with homework, or attend those parent/teacher conferences. As parents too, many of you know what I'm talking about here.
A few years ago, a little girl at Earhart Elementary in Chicago was asked the secret to her academic success.
She said, "I just study hard every night because I like learning. My teacher wants me to be a good student, and so does my mother. I don't want to let them down."
We have quite a challenge ahead of us, but we've overcome great challenges before. Over the course of two centuries, we have continually upheld the promise of education for all as that which allows any child to transcend the barriers of race or class or background and achieve their God-given potential. And we have risen together as a result.
It is teachers and education support professionals who have always made this possible - who have always reminded us that that little girl in Chicago is not 'these kids', she is our child. She doesn't want to let us down, and now it is our generation's turn to ensure that we won't let her down either. I know you'll be leading the way, and I look forward to standing with you in the fight. Thank you.