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Obama 'heartbroken' by Japan disasters, restates U.S. support

President Obama says the U.S. will 'offer any assistance' to Japan after Friday's earthquake and tsunami. The president spoke from a Virginia school, where he called on Congress to reauthorize 'No Child Left Behind' and urged education spending.

March 14, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — President Obama, "heartbroken" by the unfolding tragedy in Japan, reiterated Monday that the United States stood ready to support its ally in the aftermath of Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

"The United States will continue to offer any assistance we can as Japan continues to recover from multiple disasters," Obama said.

His remarks came at a Virginia middle school, the latest event in what the White House has called "Education Month." The president used Monday’s event to call on Congress to reauthorize "No Child Left Behind" before the start of the next school year.

"I want every child in the country to head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America’s priority," he said. "Let’s seize this education moment."

At Kenmore Middle School in suburban Washington, Obama said that in the new global economy America needed not only to make sure no child was left behind but also to ensure that they got ahead.

Both parties widely agree that the 2002 law needs an overhaul. The nature of the changes, however, are the subject of considerable debate.

On the left, many Democrats and teachers think schools, especially those without strong local tax support, need more federal money. They support standards of achievement but don't want teachers judged solely by student tests.

Conservatives generally like tough standards but think state and local governments should have more responsibility. Most of all, they want to give parents vouchers for public money that could be applied to private-school tuition, which they say would promote competition among the public schools.

The Obama administration has said No Child Left Behind is inadequately funded and seeks to replace it with a system for reviewing schools that leaves more day-to-day decisions to states and school districts. He also urged "investment" in schools to keep the U.S. competitive with other countries.

"The goals of No Child Left Behind were the right goals," Obama said. "But what hasn't worked is denying teachers, schools and states what they need to meet these goals."

Referring obliquely to the debate over public unions occurring in statehouses across the country, Obama said that if the nation truly valued education, it also must value teachers, which means offering them competitive pay.

Obama met with the relevant committee leaders handling legislation last week as the Department of Education issued a report estimating that 82% of the nation's public schools could fall short of federal standards this year. The president cited the report in his remarks Monday as he made the case for overhauling the law.

This month, Obama also has traveled to schools in Florida and Massachusetts, highlighting state and local education reforms and calling for increased federal "investments" in education to ensure the nation is competitive in a global economy.

Speaking to students before his speech, Obama urged them to take their education more seriously than he was at the same age. 

"I was at my worst, getting into trouble, visiting the principal's office," he said.

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