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From preschool to high school, Obama seeking big progress in education

This week the president announced ambitious plans for universal preschool access and high school curriculums tailored to the 21st century, but are Congress and the states interested?

By Staff writer / February 14, 2013

President Obama gestures as he speaks at the Decatur Recreation Center in Decatur, Ga., Thursday, in Decatur, Ga., about his plans for early childhood education, this following his State of the Union address.

John Bazemore/AP

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President Obama laid out an ambitious agenda for improving American K-12 education this week, linking the issue to the nation’s future prosperity. 

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During his State of the Union address Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he wants to make public preschools available to all four-year-olds in the US, a goal he then underscored Thursday with a visit to an early childhood learning center in Decatur, Ga.. 

"We know it works," he said at the school. "If you're looking for a good bang for your educational buck, this is it right here."

His Tuesday speech also promised a new effort “to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy" and a plan to develop a “college scorecard” to help young people gauge the costs and benefits of attending a particular college. 

The success of the president's lofty goals, however, will depend in large part on how successful he is at fleshing out his agenda and selling it to states and a politically divided Congress.

But some education experts say his proposals are at least a step in a positive direction – given the agreement that “human capital” is vital in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.

“His goals are the right ones,” says Jack Jennings, founder of the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocacy group on education, which draws its funding from charitable foundations.  “We lack comprehensive school reform in the United States,” he says, adding that Obama’s objectives bring some crucial educational issues into the public spotlight.

Preschool, for instance, can be vital stepping stone that prepares children for success in elementary school. And rebooting high school curriculums could make a big difference in the nation’s economic and social life.

Currently, only 34 percent of American fourth-graders and 30 percent of eighth-graders are at least proficient in science, according to 2011 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

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