Obama, speaking at a town hall at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington repeated his belief it was important for American students to "out-educate" others to win the future in a global arena.
His discussions about the need for accessible, top-drawer education in the United States echoed similar speeches since the State of the Union. Obama also has indicated he wouldn't sign a budget that shortchanges education because it would sacrifice future generations.
The town hall meeting was sponsored by Univision.
Moderator Jorge Ramos asked Obama about spending priorities and the president acknowledged the U.S. defense budget has grown much more quickly than education in the last decade.
"And we are only gonna be as strong as we are here at home," Obama said. "If we are not strong here at home, if our economy is not growing, if our people are not getting jobs, if they are not succeeding, then we won't be able to project military strength or any other kind of strength. And that's why in my 2012 budget, even tho we have all these obligations ... Despite all that, my proposed budget still increases education spending by 10 percent, including 4 percent for non-college related expenses."
Obama said parents must be involved in education because they are the "single most important factor in determining whether a child will succeed.
Technology in schools is important, the president said, but it isn't "magic bullet" for learning.
Answering Bell principal Maria Tukeva's question about how more minorities could be brought into teaching, Obama said a better job must be done to recruit from historically black colleges and universities, as well as Hispanic-serving institutions.
"We're trying to constantly elevate teaching as a profession," he said.
One student asked Obama about deportation as she held up a deportation letter.
Obama said he remained a "strong supporter" of Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act, which would open a pathway to permanent residency and eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children if they have the equivalent of a high school degree or enter college or the military.
"We've got to keep the pressure up on Congress" to pass the DREAM Act, he said.