The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 14, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks to the House Education and Workforce Committee
Washington, D.C.

Congressman Boehner, Congressman Miller, members, thank you for inviting me to discuss a subject that's important to all of us and to America's children: The importance of strong teachers in our nation's schools.

The people with the most influence on our country's future are America's teachers. Dedicated teachers inspire youngsters to achieve their greatest potential. And they deserve our respect and appreciation…and the resources, skills, and tools to help them do their job.

In January, President Bush signed an historic piece of legislation, called the No Child Left Behind Act, which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. This historic piece of legislation gives schools greater flexibility to use federal funds where the local need is greatest: to recruit new teachers, to improve teacher training, or to increase teacher pay in critical need areas.

Congressmen Boehner and Miller, and members of the committee, you worked many long hours to ensure passage of this landmark legislation. Even after September 11 the Congress and the President were determined to finish the bill. The bipartisan consensus you helped to build makes implementing this law easier; there is broad agreement on both sides of the aisle that the necessary ingredients for improving America schools are: reforms plus resources.

This new law makes sense and it means dollars — a 27 percent increase over last year — for schools all across America.

But this new money is matched with important reforms. First, it will transform federal spending on schools by insisting on improved student performance. Second, it will require all states to set high standards of achievement and create a system of accountability to measure results.

That's not to say there won't be challenges. These reforms will affect nearly every public school in America. So the implementation process will force us to face the stark realities of a public education in which some schools are excellent while others leave children behind.

The new focus on accountability and achievement provides a road map for significant improvements that will benefit all of our nation's school children.

Because I worked as a public school elementary teacher, I know that we can set high standards -- we can insist on strong curricula -- but what also matters is who is teaching our children.

Last week I convened a White House conference on preparing tomorrow's teachers. Gathered were education leaders, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Representatives Graham and Isakson for attending the conference.

We heard from education experts who said that over the next decade, American schools will need more than two million new teachers. And all teachers, whether new or tenured, must have better training and resources to succeed, including:

The President understands these needs, and his proposed budget (FY 2003) reflects it, providing $4 billion dollars overall for teacher recruitment, training, and staff development.

The President's budget also proposes expanding funding for programs that recruit new science, math, and special education teachers by forgiving part of their college loans -- in exchange for a commitment to teach in high need schools for at least five years.

Our brand new education reforms ask a lot of America's teachers - and we owe them something in return. We owe them our respect for the professionals they are. We owe them our support. And we owe them the training and tools to succeed.

And we shouldn't wait until they're assigned to their first classroom to provide valuable training. We can do more to ensure that graduates of our colleges of education are prepared to be effective in the classroom. The place to start is by changing the way we recruit and teach our teachers.

FIRST: We must do more to attract our best and brightest to the teaching profession -- and then, provide incentives to keep them in the classroom.

The sad fact is that many of our highest achieving students are not enrolling in our colleges of education. Studies show that, on average, those who do enroll have lower verbal and math scores than their peers in other fields of study. Studies also show that teachers with higher standardized test scores leave teaching at much higher rates those with lower scores.

We should also encourage programs that draw teaching candidates from non-traditional sources, such as:

Sergeant Moore gave 21 years of his life in service to our country before he retired from the military. With help from the Troops to Teachers program, Sergeant Moore obtained his alternative certification and - for the past 7 years - has been a special education teacher in a Baltimore school.

He, and more than 4,000 like him, are teaching in America's schools, sharing their unique and valuable skills and serving as role models for their students. About 86 percent of the Troops to Teachers are male, 33 percent are minorities, and 28 percent teach math and science.

Knowing this, President Bush promoted and signed legislation to increase funding for the Troops to Teachers program five-fold -- from $3 million in 2001 to $18 million in 2002. And, he has proposed further increasing funding for this program to $20 million in FY 2003.

Once we've recruited good, smart people, it is up to our colleges of education to provide a solid foundation of skills and knowledge.

Which is my SECOND point: We must strengthen teacher standards and the quality of teacher education programs.

When I was a teacher, I knew I was not as prepared as I should have been to teach certain subjects. Take reading, for example. Even with a degree in education and practice as a student teacher, I didn't know how to teach a child to read. I took pride in my educational training, but the job was much harder than I had imagined.

I realized that some of my students were having trouble learning -- not because of a problem on their part, but because I needed to know more about the concepts.

I have visited many schools across the country and I've talked with lots of principals, teachers, and students. And many of them share the same experiences and frustrations that I did years ago. Studies of teachers fresh out of college indeed show that many are not prepared for the challenges of today's classrooms.

In one study, fewer than 36 percent surveyed said they felt "very well prepared" to teach and help their students meet performance standards. Less than 20 percent said they felt prepared to meet the needs of diverse students or those with limited English proficiency.

The problem is compounded when new teachers are hired and then left to "sink or swim," without proper support and guidance. Not surprisingly, about 22 percent of new public school teachers - more than one in five -- leave the profession within their first three years.

Dr. Diane Ravitch from New York University pointed out during the White House conference that when leading educators first created colleges of education, they envisioned a place of rigorous study that would elevate teachers to the professional level of doctors and lawyers.

More than a century later, it hasn't turned out that way.

While some schools of education keep abreast of scientific research on teaching and learning, others do not.

As a result, prospective teachers are not benefiting from valuable and current bodies of study on what to teach, how to teach, how to monitor student progress, and how to help students who are falling behind. Experts at our White House conference said many teachers complain that their college education programs barely scratched the surface on these important areas and provided only limited hands-on experience in a real public school setting.

And just like I was unprepared so many years before, new elementary school teachers found themselves in a classroom full of children only to discover they really had no idea - practically speaking -- how to teach children to read.

There is no excuse for this. We now know - because science tells us -- what teaching methods are most effective. The basics work. Reading programs that include phonics and phonemic awareness work. Regular testing works. Some methods are tried and true, and we must make sure our teachers learn them.

New teachers also report that even after they realize their shortcomings, they are frustrated in their attempts to find training that will enhance their skills, fill in gaps of knowledge, and help them become better teachers.

In Elk Grove, California, Superintendent David Gordon got tired of sending under-prepared teachers into classrooms of under-achieving students. He had high expectations for his district's students. So he came up with his own solution.

Here's what happened: Even though he raised the bar for achievement for both students and teachers - and even though a teacher shortage loomed -- Elk Grove schools began filling its classrooms with top-quality and well-trained people who were up to the challenge of the rigorous curriculum. And student achievement soared.

This is how Superintendent Gordon did it: Working with a university that was willing to "think outside the box", the Elk Grove Unified School District started its own fast-track teacher credential program.

Called the Teacher Education Institute, or TEI, this program sets high District standards for prospective teachers and then trains them to meet those high standards. Teacher candidates are taught by some of the most capable veteran teachers. And they get intensive hands-on classroom experience.

TEI works. I mentioned earlier that more than one-in-five new public school teachers leave the profession within the first three years…At our conference, Superintendent Gordon told us that - nine years after he started TEI -- 96 percent of its graduates are still on the job.

Student performance has improved dramatically, especially in Elk Grove's highest-need schools. This District, that once lagged behind the state average in the number of high school graduates who go to college, has seen its number of college-bound students more than double -- from 14.8 percent to 27 percent.

In the months since the September 11th tragedy, I have traveled across the country, from New York to Pennsylvania; Chicago to Atlanta; Baton Rouge to Los Angeles. Wherever I go, people tell me they are reassessing their values…they want to consider public service because they want to make a difference in their communities.

I believe teaching is the greatest public service of many professionals are finding out through alternative certification programs like Troops to Teachers and the TEI.

General Omar Bradley was right when he said: "The teacher is the real soldier of democracy. Others can defend it, but only he can make it work."

Finally, the THIRD thing we must do to help promote strong teachers is: Turn out more graduates who are well-versed in the liberal arts and solidly educated in the subject they plan to teach so they are ready for the academic rigors of the classroom.

At the White House conference on teacher preparation, Dr. Russ Whitehurst (Assistant Secretary in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement) from the Department of Education, said that research confirms what we all know intuitively: The depth of knowledge teachers bring to the classroom determines how well children learn in that classroom. Put simply: Children excel when their teachers really know their subjects.

Recent studies in Tennessee and Texas found large differences in achievement between students taught by the most knowledgeable teachers and those being taught by the least knowledgeable. In the Tennessee study, students with highly effective teachers for three years in a row scored 50 percentage points higher on a test of math skills than those whose teachers were ineffective.

Unfortunately, too many teachers don't have a deep knowledge of the subjects they teach. And they know it.

The President of the American Federation of Teachers, Sandra Feldman, said this to our White House conference participants:

"Good teachers need to be really well educated….They need to know - deeply - the subject they teach. Prospective teachers should complete an academic major and have a solid foundation in the liberal arts. You can't teach what you don't know well."

Tragically, children most in need - students in inner city and rural schools -- are least likely to have teachers who are best prepared to help them.

For example, 43 percent of math teachers in high poverty schools have neither majored nor minored in math-related fields, compared to 27 percent in low poverty schools.

Twenty-five percent of disadvantaged children are taught English by teachers who don't have a degree in English, compared to only 11 percent of middle class children.

Let me share a story with you: The President of the Massachusetts Board of Education wrote a report to the Board about teacher qualification. In it, he said that teachers must have a thorough and critical knowledge of the subjects they're teaching.

He stressed that there's simply no equivalent for a mastery of the rudiments. He also noted that the ability to teach is the power to perceive how well a student understands the subject and to know how to adjust each lesson to the capacity of the student.

This report, titled "On the Art of Teaching" was written more than 160 years ago…by Horace Mann. His words are just as true today - teachers must have a thorough knowledge of the subject content, and students must be assessed so we know that they're learning.

Our obligation to America's teachers is as clear and strong as our obligation to America's children. Teachers are the heart and soul of our schools and they deserve our support. And children deserve the quality education that comes from excellent teachers. This is their birthright.

The White House Conference on preparing tomorrow's teachers gave us new insights and understanding of the challenges ahead as we work to support our "soldiers of democracy" -- America's teachers.

I appreciate the opportunity to share this information with you. And I thank you for what you are doing every day to ensure a brighter future for America's children.

# # #

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document