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Video: President Obama: I ‘goofed off’ too much in school

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    >>> on education nation today, the president's perspective. i sat down with president obama as he campaigned in wisconsin over the weekend, and we began by talking about the recent teachers strike in his hometown of chicago which pits the teachers union against his former chief of staff, chicago mayor rahm emanuel . there was a leading reform advocate who said this shows it is a new day for democrats. they are no longer kowtowing to the unions. is that how you see it?

    >> you know, that's not how i see it. what i see is that all across the country people want results. it was very important, i think, for mayor emanuel to say let's step up our game, and it was important for the teachers unions also to say let's make sure we're not just blaming teachers for a lot of big problems out there. let's make sure we've got the resources, so i'm glad it was resolved, but i do think that from the perspective of democrats we can't just sit on the status quo or say that money's the only issue. reform is important also.

    >> mitt romney said that president obama has chosen his side, sighing with the unions and another time last spring he said he can't talk up reform while indulging in groups that block it.

    >> well, you know, i think governor romney and a number of folks try to politicized the issue and do a lot of teacher-bashing. when i meet teachers all across the country, so devoted and dedicated to their kids, and what we've tried to do is actually break through this left-right, conservative -- liberal gridlock.

    >> can you really say that teachers unions aren't slowing the pace of reform?

    >> you know, i just really get frustrated when i hear teacher-bashing as evidence of reform. my sister is a former teacher, and i can tell you that they work so hard. they are putting money out of their own pockets in the classroom every single day. they are not doing it for the patients and, you know, what is absolutely true is if we've got a bad teacher, we should be able to train them to get better, and if they can't get better, they should be able to get fired.

    >> i'm sure you could recite the statistics by heart. american students 25th in math.

    >> yeah.

    >> 17th in science. 14th in reading, and yet the u.s. spends just about as much as any other country per pupil. people are wondering what are we spending our money on then?

    >> well, you know, part of the problem we've got is we've got a very diverse country compared to some of the smaller countries where all the kids are coming to school pretty well prepared. they are not hungry. they are not poor. in our country, you know, we've got poor kids and some kids who have deep troubles at home, but there's no doubt that we can step up our game, and this is a big argument and a big difference that i've got with governor romney in this election, because they talk a good game about reform, but when you actually look at their budgets, they are talking about slashing our investment in education by 20%, 25%. we've already seen 300,000 teachers that have been fired across the country, and as a consequence class sizes have gone up by 5%.

    >> let me ask you about no child left behind . the administration has granted waivers to states because congress hasn't amended the law, allows them to not have as rigorous standards. because of those waivers in some states, states are permitted to have different proficiency standards by race. the bottom line is we have a situation in america in 2012 where you have african-americans expected not to reach the same level of proficiency at whits whites. on a gut level, does that bother you?

    >> the initial premise behind no child left behind is all kids have to learn and because it was underresourced and kids coming into school, a lot of minority kids were coming into school already behind, the schools were not going to be meeting these standards, and so what we've said to schools is you've got to continue to keep the high standards , but we are going to measure growth. we're still going to keep track of what you're doing with each group, and you're not going to have an excuse to do really well with white kids, let's say, and the plaque and hispanic kids aren't doing as well, but you average it out and meet something. we're still going to disaggregate the information about black, white and hispanic kids to make sure that everybody is moving.

    >> before i let you go. you got in some hot water at home i heard a while back when you let the world know that malia had gotten a "c" on a science test. that got me thinking. have you ever failed a test?

    >> oh, yes.

    >> really?

    >> absolutely.

    >> you know, i would say i was a mediocre student until i got to college. i -- i goofed off way too much. malia and sasha are so far ahead of me, basically in all respects. they are just better people than i was at their age, and -- and they are doing wonderfully. you know, i couldn't be prouder of them. i will say that at least at the school they are at, they are getting a lot more homework than i did when i was that age. they seem to be working deep into the night , you know. i didn't study that hard until the night before an exam.

    >> well, tomorrow, on "today" we'll get governor romney 's perspective on the state of education in america .

TODAY contributor
updated 9/25/2012 7:58:44 AM ET 2012-09-25T11:58:44

President Obama accused Mitt Romney of “a lot of teacher bashing” for trying to politicize the recent Chicago teacher strike by tying the president to the city’s teachers unions.

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During an interview Tuesday as part of NBC News Education Nation, Obama dismissed charges by Romney that the president sided during the strike with organized labor, which typically favors Democratic candidates, over the interest of students.

Video: President Obama: I ‘goofed off’ too much in school (on this page)

“I just really get frustrated when I hear teacher-bashing as evidence of reform,” Obama told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie. "My sister is a former teacher. And I can tell you that they work so hard. They’re putting money out of their own pockets in the classroom every single day. They’re not doing it for the pay.”

Obama agreed that bad teachers should get the chance to improve through training. However, he said “if they can’t get better, they should be able to get fired.”

The United States spends more money per pupil than nearly any other country, yet American students struggle to compete globally in the fields of math, science and reading.

Obama said part of the reason is because of this nation’s economically diverse population.

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"These smaller countries where all the kids are coming to school pretty well prepared — they’re not hungry, they’re not poor," he said. "In our country, we’ve got poor kids, some kids who have deep troubles at home. But there’s no doubt that we can step up our game."

Obama has acknowledged raising the stakes in his own household. Several years ago, he called on states and parents to set higher education standards for children. He did so by making an example of his daughter, Malia, who had recently brought home a 73 percent on a science test. She quickly brought her grade up to an A, but never failed to let her father know how embarrassed she was by the incident.

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Obama said his two daughters are far better students than he ever was. The president even revealed he was known to fail a test or two in his youth.

“I would say I was a mediocre student until I got to college. I goofed off way too much. Malia and Sasha are so far ahead of me, basically in all respects,” he said. “They’re just better people than I was at their age.”

The girls get a lot more homework than the president did at their age, said Obama, who commented on his daughter’s industrious study habits.

“They seem to be working deep into the night,” he said. “You know, I didn’t study that hard until the night before an exam.”

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