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 Home > News & Policies > February 2001

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 20, 2001

President Bush Speaks With Parents and Teachers at St. Louis Elementary School
Moline Elementary School
St. Louis, Missouri
Read the President's Education Initiative: text pdf PDF Information (1688 kb)

2:11 P.M. CST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Sarah, thanks for those kind words. And, Chris, thank you very much. Now, what you forgot to say is what I can say, and that is, I believe and know that a school succeeds when there is a dynamic principal in charge of the school. And that's the case here at Moline. I also know it's important to have a Superintendent of Schools who is willing to push the bounds of excellence, and that's what you have in your Superintendent of Schools.

President George W. Bush speaks with the First Lady Laura Bush at Moline Elementary School in St.Louis, Missouri on February 20 2001. (White House Photo by Paul Morse)

We're so honored that you would welcome us here. Laura and I are glad to be traveling to the great state of Missouri. I want to thank your senior Senator Kitt Bond. I want to thank Congressman Clay. I want to thank Congressman Akin for your hospitality. And, Governor, I'm so pleased you're here as well.

We put out an invitation to all the governors to join us next Sunday night at the White House for dinner, and the Governor has agreed to come and eat some ribs, I think it is. (Laughter.) Maybe not ribs, but -- but I appreciate so very much you taking time to be here today.

Boys and girls, thank you all as well for your hospitality. We had a chance to listen to some 3rd-graders read. They sound like 6th graders to us.

Let me talk a little policy, if you don't mind. There's a time for politics in our society and that ended a while ago. Now is the time for good public policy. And it starts with the universal goal of every child being educated in America. That sounds like anybody would say that. But to me, it's an achievable goal.

There are some certain principles to which we need to adhere in order to meet that goal. First, setting the highest of high standards; understanding that all children can learn; not accepting excuses when certain children don't learn; not adhering to a system that shuffles children through because it's so much easier to quit as opposed to focus on a child-by-child basis. Good education starts with high standards, whether it be set by the President, the governor, or the superintendent, or the principal or the teacher in the classroom.

Secondly, I strongly believe in what we call local control of schools. I believe it's critically important for those of us in the federal government to align authority and responsibility where it belongs, and that is at the local level. There's the old statement, one size fits all doesn't work when it comes to educating children. I fully subscribe to that.

You've got different issues, Governor, in the state of Missouri, than we had in the state of Texas. We have the same goals, the same objectives, the same heart, but you have a different set of problems. And, therefore, it's incumbent upon us in the White House to work with members of the Congress to pass federal money back with as much flexibility as possible, to trust local people to set the course for excellence for all the children in the different school districts around the country.

Thirdly, accountability is critically important for -- to meet the goal that no child will be left behind. It is incredibly important to measure, because without measuring, how do you know if a child is learning to read and write and add and subtract? How do you know? It seems like it's a fundamentally fair question for those of us in public life to ask. We're spending money, we'd like to know in return whether or not children are learning.

Now, I don't believe the federal government ought to design a test, Governor. I think you can design your own. You've certainly done so -- at least in this school district, they've designed their own accountability system. It's an accountability system that's so impressive because it's not just a measurement on an annual basis, it's a frequent measurement to determine whether or not a specific child is learning. And if that child isn't, there's immediate help. When there's a problem diagnosed, help comes. That's what's so important about having accountability. It's the cornerstone for reform.

President George W. Bush and the First Lady Laura Bush listen to student Janea Bufford read at Moline Elementary School in St.Louis, Missouri on February 20 2001. (White House Photo by Paul Morse)

I'm going to ask Congress to pass legislation that says that any school district which receives federal money must design a test on an annual basis so that we know. It's the framework for addressing problems early, before it's too late. It says that consequences matter, but more importantly, if we set up the systems right, by disaggregating results, by treating each child as a person, not part of some overall group, we begin to have an education system that says each child matters, and we're going to track each child as he or she goes through the system. It's a critically important part of education reform.

I believe we can do a better job of teaching children to read. One of the reasons we chose this school is not only because of the strong appetite for diagnosing children early, and the willingness to cure problems before they become acute, but this is a school that focuses on a reading curriculum that works. I hope it's said that the Bush administration is willing to ask the question, what works, and then helps districts implement programs that do work. Phonics works. It's an important part of a good reading -- balanced reading curriculum. The reason I know is because I have asked the question to folks at the National Institute of Health. They're not Republicans, they're not Democrats, they're not -- they are scientists, who have spent a lot of time figuring out how to make sure all children have the capacity to learn.

And while there needs to be balanced reading curriculum, it is critically important for us to make sure the curriculum employed around the country is a curriculum that will actually achieve the results that we want, and that is children reading by the 3rd grade.

So I'm sending up to Congress a proposal called Reading First. It is a $5 billion program over five years. It will triple the amount of reading money available for local districts to access. It says that inherent in any good program is the need for districts to develop a K through 2 diagnostic tool; that is a simple tool that will enable K through 2 teachers to determine who needs help early.

There will be money involved in the reading program to help retrain teachers on how to teach a curriculum that works. One of the things that we must recognize in our society, Governor, is that sometimes our teacher colleges do not -- are not able to match the hearts of teachers and give them the skills necessary to be effective teachers. There needs to be a lot of retraining, unfortunately.

And while, and until, the teacher colleges get it right in terms of teaching curriculum that works, it seems like to me a useful role for government is to provide funds for teacher retraining. I'm not saying all teacher colleges fail. You would probably argue with me here that Missouri teacher colleges don't fail. But sometimes you find teachers in classrooms who have got all heart, but lack the skills necessary to understand the science of reading. It is incumbent upon us to match the heart and skills together.

We need to make sure that our Head Start programs not only fulfill the social functions and the health functions that they do today, but that Head Start programs become, first and foremost, a reading program to give the little guys the skills necessary to be able to come to these elementary schools prepared and ready to take advantage of the programs that these fine elementary schools like this one have got -- and offer to children.

And finally, in order to make sure that a reading program works, there needs to be a strong emphasis on curriculum to help districts decide what curriculum to choose, what curriculum will work.

I am absolutely convinced that we can do a better job of teaching all children to read, because I start with the thought that all children can learn to read. I refuse to accept systems, and refuse not to challenge systems, that give up on children early.

I came from a state where there was a lot of children whose parents did not speak English as their first language. It was much easier to say, gosh, these little kids are too difficult to educate, let's just move them through. Those days are unacceptable. That frame of mind is not right for America, and we can do a better job. It starts with putting trust where it belongs.

Madam Superintendent, I promise you, I know where the great educational entrepreneurship of America lay, and it lay right here, in districts such as this one, and schools such as this one. It's trust in local people -- it starts with trusting local people to make the right decisions. It's a system that is -- in its framework, encourages reform when reform is needed, and rewards excellence when excellence is found.

And so I'm here, frankly, to call upon the citizens of this important state to help pass legislation that will not only focus on teaching every child to read, but legislation that will have at its cornerstone, at its very core, a reform agenda based upon accountability, based upon measuring each child, based upon making sure that no child is left behind.

America is a great land. It will be a greater land when every child is educated. The strength of our country is the public school system. That strength will be even stronger -- even stronger -- when we insist that every child be measured, every problem corrected, and every child challenged to be the best he or she can be.

That can happen, and it is going to happen. It's an honor to be here. God bless you for what you do, and thank you for your hospitality. (Applause.) Thank you all.

END 2:22 P.M. CST