Obama on the Record: NAACP Centennial Convention

All these things will make America stronger and more competitive. They will drive innovation, they will create jobs, they will provide families with more security. And yet, even if we do all that, the African American community will still fall behind in the United States and the United States will fall behind in the world unless we do a far better job than we have been doing of educating our sons and daughters. (Applause.)

I hope you don’t mind — I want to go into a little detail here about education. (Applause.) In the 21st century — when so many jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or more, when countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow — a world-class education is a prerequisite for success.

There’s no two ways about it. There’s no way to avoid it. You know what I’m talking about. There’s a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools. There’s a reason Thurgood Marshall took up the cause of Linda Brown. There’s a reason why the Little Rock Nine defied a governor and a mob. It’s because there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God-given potential. (Applause.)

And yet, more than half a century after Brown v. Board, the dream of a world-class education is still being deferred all across the country. African American students are lagging behind white classmates in reading and math — an achievement gap that is growing in states that once led the way in the civil rights movement. Over half of all African American students are dropping out of school in some places. There are overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling schools, and corridors of shame in America filled with poor children — not just black children, brown and white children as well.

The state of our schools is not an African American problem; it is an American problem. (Applause.) Because if black and brown children cannot compete, then America cannot compete. (Applause.) And let me say this, if Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg, and Newt Gingrich can agree that we need to solve the education problem, then that’s something all of America can agree we can solve. (Applause.) Those guys came into my office. (Laughter.) Just sitting in the Oval Office — I kept on doing a double-take. (Laughter and applause.) So that’s a sign of progress and it is a sign of the urgency of the education problem. (Applause.) All of us can agree that we need to offer every child in this country — every child –

AUDIENCE: Amen!

THE PRESIDENT: Got an “Amen corner” back there — (applause) — every child — every child in this country the best education the world has to offer from cradle through a career.

That’s our responsibility as leaders. That’s the responsibility of the United States of America. And we, all of us in government, have to work to do our part by not only offering more resources, but also demanding more reform. Because when it comes to education, we got to get past this whole paradigm, this outdated notion that somehow it’s just money; or somehow it’s just reform, but no money — and embrace what Dr. King called the “both-and” philosophy. We need more money and we need more reform. (Applause.)

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