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WASHINGTON — Trying to make his case for overhauling the nation’s education laws, President Barack Obama is highlighting progress at a Tennessee high school as evidence that the proper incentives can help all schools succeed.

Obama focused his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday on Memphis’ Booker T. Washington High School, where the president delivered the commencement address Monday.

Graduation rates at the school, which is in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, have risen impressively in just three years. The school won a national competition to secure him as its speaker by demonstrating how it overcame challenges through innovations such as separate freshman academies for boys and girls.

“Booker T. Washington High School is no longer a story about what’s gone wrong in education,” the president said. “It’s a story about how we can set it right.

“We need to encourage this kind of change all across America. We need to reward the reforms that are driven not by Washington, but by principals and teachers and parents. That’s how we’ll make progress in education – not from the top down, but from the bottom up.”

Obama promoted his Race to the Top initiative, which has states compete for education money. But the program has drawn criticism and Republicans on Capitol Hill are unwilling to devote new money to it. He also renewed his call for Congress to send him a rewrite of No Child Left Behind, the nation’s governing education law.

“We need to promote reform that gets results while encouraging communities to figure out what’s best for their kids. That why it’s so important that Congress replace No Child Left Behind this year – so schools have that flexibility,” Obama said. “Reform just can’t wait.”

There is bipartisan agreement that the inflexible, testing-heavy law needs to change. But prospects for an overhaul this year don’t seem bright, given that the economy, jobs and deficit are dominating the agenda.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said recently that a deadline Obama set in March for a rewrite of the law by September would be impossible to meet.

Republicans devoted their weekly address to energy.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas accused the Obama administration of over-regulating and not doing enough to spur production at a time of $4-a-gallon gasoline. Obama last week directed his administration to step up U.S. oil production through measures such as extending existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska’s coast.

Hutchison complained the administration’s policies remain too restrictive.

“We call on him to put policies in place that cut the bureaucratic red tape and put Americans to work doing it,” she said.

Analysts and many lawmakers acknowledge there’s little Washington can do that immediately would affect gas prices.


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