When it comes to higher education we’re making college and advanced training more affordable, and strengthening community colleges that are the gateway to so many with an initiative — (applause) — that will prepare students not only to earn a degree, but to find a job when they graduate; an initiative that will help us meet the goal I have set of leading the world in college degrees by 2020. We used to rank number one in college graduates. Now we are in the middle of the pack. And since we are seeing more and more African American and Latino youth in our population, if we are leaving them behind we cannot achieve our goal, and America will fall further behind — and that is not a future that I accept and that is not a future that the NAACP is willing to accept. (Applause.)
We’re creating a Race to the Top fund that will reward states and public school districts that adopt 21st century standards and assessments. We’re creating incentives for states to promote excellent teachers and replace bad ones — (applause) — because the job of a teacher is too important for us to accept anything less than the best. (Applause.)
We also have to explore innovative approaches such as those being pursued here in New York City; innovations like Bard High School Early College and Medgar Evers College Preparatory School that are challenging students to complete high school and earn a free associate’s degree or college credit in just four years. (Applause.)
And we should raise the bar when it comes to early learning programs. It’s not enough just to have a babysitter. We need our young people stimulated and engaged and involved. (Applause.) We need our — our folks involved in child development to understand the latest science. Today, some early learning programs are excellent. Some are mediocre. And some are wasting what studies show are by far a child’s most formative years.
That’s why I’ve issued a challenge to America’s governors: If you match the success of states like Pennsylvania and develop an effective model for early learning; if you focus reform on standards and results in early learning programs; if you demonstrate how you will prepare the lowest income children to meet the highest standards of success — then you can compete for an Early Learning Challenge Grant that will help prepare all our children to enter kindergarten all ready to learn. (Applause.)
So these are some of the laws we’re passing. These are some of the policies we are enacting. We are busy in Washington. Folks in Congress are getting a little tuckered out. (Laughter.) But I’m telling them — I’m telling them we can’t rest, we’ve got a lot of work to do. The American people are counting on us. (Applause.) These are some of the ways we’re doing our part in government to overcome the inequities, the injustices, the barriers that still exist in our country.