Obama Says the Future of U.S. Economy Depends on a Better Education System

President Barack Obama said U.S. public education systems should extend the school year and weed out the worst-performing teachers because the future of the nation’s economy depends on a more educated workforce.

Students in the U.S. spend “about a month less” in school than in other advanced countries, and that time “makes a difference,” Obama said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show.

“That means that kids are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer,” he said. The extra cost of extending the school year would be “money well spent.”

Obama is promoting his education initiatives, including the “Race to the Top” grant program and a new goal of recruiting 10,000 science, technology, engineering and math teachers over the next two years. As he has in the past, Obama said the nation is falling behind in math and science education and that is hurting U.S. economic competitiveness.

While public education is primarily funded and run by state and local authorities in the U.S., Obama is pushing for broad adoption of standards for both teachers and students to achieve his goal of having the highest rate of college graduates in the world by 2020. The U.S. now ranks 12th among 36 developed nations, the College Board said in a report in July.

Overhauling Standard

“Money, without reform, will not fix the problem,” he said. The president voiced support for overhauling performance standards, including firing teachers who fall short.

“We’ve got to be able to indentify teachers who are doing well, teachers who are not doing well,” he said. “Ultimately if some teachers aren’t doing a good job, they’ve got to go.”

Obama’s daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, attend the private Sidwell Friends School in the Washington area. He said they wouldn’t be able to get as good an education in the city’s “struggling” public schools even though the Washington school system has made strides “in the direction of reform.”

The president’s Race to the Top program, funded with $4.35 billion, is meant to improve U.S. education by raising state standards and linking teacher pay to student achievement.

“We’ve got to raise teacher pay generally,” he said, to ensure that teachers can afford to stay in teaching.

“The problem is that typically, after two or three years, they drop out of teaching,” he said. Sometimes “they don’t feel they’re getting enough support” from local school districts.

Slow Recovery

On the economy generally, Obama repeated that he understands the public is frustrated with the pace of the recovery and continuing high unemployment, which was 9.6 percent last month.

“The problem is we just lost so many jobs” during the recession, he said. The recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, making it the longest since the 1930s. The losses mean the U.S. has “a bigger hole to fill” in reducing unemployment.

He also said his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, hasn’t told him whether he plans to run for mayor of Chicago.

Emanuel may leave the administration before the November congressional elections to run for the top job in his hometown, people familiar with the matter said last week. The last day to file paperwork for a bid is Nov. 22.

Emanuel “will have to make a decision quickly because running for mayor of Chicago is a serious enterprise,” Obama said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at rrunningen@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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