Tales from the Trail

Expecting lots of entries from Red States?

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It’s not quite the glee club or football championship.

U.S. high schools will flex their competitive muscles this spring for a different sort of prize — President Barack Obama as speaker at  this spring’s graduation ceremony.  But to catch that particular brass ring, they will have to show not how well their students can sing or tackle, but make the case for how dedicated they are to providing an excellent education.

The White House announced its  ”Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge” on Friday, which it says “encourages schools to show how they are making great strides on personal responsibility,  academic excellence and college readiness.”

To compete,  applications — consisting of  four essay questions  with a video and other data optional — should be completed by students and submitted by a high school’s principal to www.WhiteHouse.gov/Commencement no later than Monday, March 15 at 11:59 p.m. EST. The White House and Department of Education will select six finalists from among schools that make the deadline. Those six will then be featured on the White House website, where the public will be able to vote for three schools that make the best case. Obama himself will select a national winner, and visit the school to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2010.

The United States has one of the worst high school dropout rates in the industrialized world and its students often rank below those in other Western nations in reading and math. Obama has pledged billions of  dollars for education in his “Race to the Top” initiative,  included in his $787 billion economic stimulus plan last year.   States are competing for that funding,  but,  given that it does involve politics  in which education is a favorite,  er,  football,  some state officials have expressed wariness about the increasing involvement of the federal government in the past decade into curriculum and school reforms.  Local officials contend that they know better what is good for their students than officials  far  away in Washington.

Photo credit: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the commencement ceremony at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona May 13, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Hoop Dreams: Obama puts on full-court press at White House

Forget about Afghanistan, healthcare and the economy. President Barack Obama took time out on Thursday to indulge in his favorite sport as he hosted cabinet members and lawmakers for a round of pickup games on the White House basketball court.

OBAMA/It was the biggest day of hoop dreams at the White House since Obama took office, and reporters disappointed at being kept away went one-on-one with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs before the opening tip-off.

As for why were journalists being barred: “To protect the privacy and the statistics of any of those involved,” he quipped at his daily briefing.

Obama assembling high-powered basketball team

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama did not have to look far to find his choice for education secretary — just across the basketball court.

USA-OBAMA/Obama and his education choice, Arne Duncan, play pick-up basketball games together, and Duncan has a history in the sport having played on the Harvard basketball team while a student there and then professionally in Australia.

At a news conference in Chicago to announce Duncan’s nomination, Obama chuckled when talking about the Chicago-area native.