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President Obama greets University of Michigan students and supporters before he leaves the podium at the Al Glick Fieldhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday, January 27, 2012 morning. (Photo by HB Meeks/Tell Us USA News Network)


President Obama has it right: America needs education

Op-Ed by Tom Watkins

ANN ARBOR - Regardless of one's politics, it is always good to have a smart POTUS (President of the United States) visiting your state.

Sure there are the inevitable traffic jams, police overtime costs and logistical headaches. But there is nothing better than commanding our president’s attention, as well as that of the nation and the world, on your hometown. To have his focus on education is icing on the cake.

Education and talent will rule as the 21st century unfolds. It should be our goal to make Michigan and America the brain bank of the world, where everyone comes for deposits and withdrawals. The city, state, and nation that gets right its system of learning to prepare its citizens to be competitive on the world stage will soar while others sour.

Speaking at the University of Michigan Friday, President Obama forcefully reinforced his message about college affordability saying, "When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the college tuition tax credit we started, that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars. And, give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years."

Amen to that.

At the other end of the spectrum, the president also spotlighted our nations high school dropout rate -- a national disgrace.

Michigan is well ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing the high school dropout crisis, which when analyzed on a national level, might well be considered a public health care epidemic.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama told the nation, “We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So, tonight, I am proposing that every state requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

To have a law on the books that allows a child to leave school at the tender age of 16, without an education is state sponsored stupidity.

As the incoming state superintendent in 2001, I called for this change in Michigan and the law was later changed.

Quality Teachers Matter

A recent study by Citizens Research Council ( highlights the importance of teachers and how Michigan could do a better, more efficient job of preparing its classroom leaders. We need to engage classroom teachers and listen to their voice as we embrace and lead school change.

The president also said, “At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to layoff thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to a child who dreams beyond his circumstances.

Instead of bashing them or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility to: Teach with creativity and passion, stop teaching to the test, and replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

Well said, Mr. President.

The White House’s just-released “A Blueprint for an America Built to Last” provides greater depth to the ideas of building an educational system and economy that works for everyone. (See

Our country’s future will only be brighter if we heed these ideas now -- we owe it to our collective futures to invest in the human potential of all Americans.

Tom Watkins served as Michigan's state superintendent of schools, 2001-05. He can be reached at



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