For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 9, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the National Summit on America's Silent Epidemic
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
10:48 A.M. EDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Lyle. And Lyle is a great example for everybody here of the way somebody can turn their life around. And I want to thank Lyle for his very kind introduction. I want to recognize Secretary Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of Education, who is with us today. Governor Donald Carcieri from Rhode Island has joined us today, and Governor John Lynch from New Hampshire is here, as well. Thank you all very much for joining us for this very, very important topic.
Students and teachers and parents, researchers, government officials, education officers, distinguished guests. Thank you all very much for coming.
More than 200 years ago, Benjamin Franklin observed that "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." Our country has learned that investing in education yields citizens who can develop their talents, who can pursue their passions, and make the very most of America's opportunities. Investing in education yields a nation that's healthier, more prosperous, and more secure.
Today, the United States is blessed with many millions of outstanding schools and teachers and students. They're the product of our country's strong commitment to education. Yet too many students never realize the promise of a good education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that out of every 100 students who enter high school, only 74 graduate on time. Among African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, the graduation rate is closer to only 50 percent.
These unacceptable numbers represent millions of real young people who are excluded from our economy, and unequipped for our society. Ninety percent of America's fastest-growing jobs require higher education. Dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, and to receive public assistance. They're more likely to be in prison or unhealthy or divorced. They're more likely to be single parents, and to raise children who drop out of high school themselves.
This crisis affects all Americans. All of us share in the costs of increased incarceration, of health care and social services. Since dropouts are less likely to vote, volunteer, or give back to their communities, all of us suffer from their disappearance from civic life. And all of us have the obligation to help.
Resolving the dropout crisis first requires knowing why it exists. In Civic Enterprises' recent study, "The Silent Epidemic," students explain why they left school, and what could have helped them finish. Most of the students never expected to drop out of high school. They dreamed of exciting careers, and the degrees that would make these careers possible -- until life's obstacles, or school itself, got in the way. Some left because of family crises, addictions, or teen parenthood. Many said they began high school unprepared by their earlier education. Others said they would've worked harder if someone had expected them to succeed.
Principals and teachers across our country are working to eliminate these obstacles to graduation. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in 2002, has brought a special focus to improving reading and math instruction in the early grades. Students who learn to read and do math early on are more likely to succeed once they reach high school.
The No Child Left Behind Act is up for reauthorization, and President Bush has proposed reforms to the upper grades to address problems outlined in "The Silent Epidemic" report. Secretary Spellings will tell you more about these programs later today.
The reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act could help older students who struggle because they've never mastered the most important skill: reading. The law will expand the Striving Readers program, which uses research-based instruction to help middle and high school students read at grade level or better.
Last year, Secretary Spellings and I met 6th-grade Striving Readers at Avon Elementary School in Newark, New Jersey. By learning to read well, these students were preparing for every other subject -- for history, for math, for science, for language, for art. They were building a strong academic foundation for high school and college, and for the rest of their lives.
Superintendents and education officers are confronting the dropout crisis in school districts throughout our country. In Shelbyville, Indiana, school officials never imagined their town had a dropout problem. After all, 90 percent of their high school students left with their diplomas. But Shelbyville used a state formula that inflated graduation rates. The truth was that a third of Shelbyville's high school students were dropping out. Shelbyville went from a grade-A graduation rate to the cover of TIME Magazine, symbol of a "Dropout Nation."
Shelbyville's superintendent, David Adams -- who you'll hear from in few minutes -- was determined that the town's graduation rates would again be a source of pride. At Shelbyville Elementary, children at risk in the first grade are given special attention. Middle school students are encouraged to take high school graduation pledges.
Shelbyville High offers a "credit lab," where students can work one on one with teachers to make up lost ground. Shelbyville hosts parent-teacher conferences at a nearby factory that employs many of the town's moms and dads. Local businesses offer internships to show young people the rewards of staying in school.
Shelbyville's efforts are paying off. In 2005, after the statistics were adjusted to eliminate the graduation inflation, the town's graduation rate was estimated at just 65 percent. Today, using the same evaluation formula, the number has climbed above 80 percent.
Shelbyville's success reminds us of why adults throughout the community must take an active role in the lives of our young people. When parents, teachers, mentors, pastors, and coaches show children we believe in them, they learn to believe in themselves. This is a powerful message, and one our young people want -- and need -- to hear from all of us. (Applause.)
According to the "Silent Epidemic" report, 70 percent of students wished their parents were more involved in their education. Many said they had "too much freedom," and they needed more rules. Only 56 percent identified an adult at school they could turn to for an academic problem. Fewer had an adult to go to with a personal problem. Nearly two-thirds of students missed class often before they finally dropped out. When adults are involved the lives of young people, they can see these warning signs, and they can act, then, to help students stay in school.
Encouraging adults to invest in the young people is at the heart of Helping America's Youth. President Bush announced the Helping America's Youth Initiative in his 2005 State of the Union address, and he asked me to lead it. So over the last two years, I've traveled throughout the United States, visiting with young people and with the adults who are so important to their lives. I've been to schools and after-school programs. I've met with mentors and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I visited a sports program in Detroit, a debate program in Atlanta, and gang-intervention programs in Los Angeles and Chicago.
All of these visits led to the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth, and then since then to three regional conferences. At these conferences, we introduced an online, interactive Community Guide. The guide's "program tool" helps adults find youth initiatives that have been proven to reduce substance abuse, gang activity, and other risk factors faced by young people. In fact, the "program tool" offers information on 29 research-based programs that help students stay in school.
The Community Guide is available on the Helping America's Youth website, which is www.helpingamericasyouth.gov -- that's g-o-v. While you're online, go to another website that's being actually put on the web this morning, and that's www.silentepidemic.org. There you'll find Education Week's Grad Rate Tool, which many of you saw this morning. Using the Grad Rate Tool, an American can find dropout rates for his local school district, and track how many students complete the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. I encourage you to use both the Community Guide and the Grad Rate Tool in your own communities.
Young people want us in their lives, and they need us in their lives. We read this in reports like "The Silent Epidemic." And we hear it from young people, and how every young person who owes his or her education to a caring adult -- young people like Seth Becker.
Not long after Seth enrolled at New York's LaGuardia High School for the Arts, he realized that high school would be a challenge. Unlike middle school, there were no kids that Seth knew from his Queens neighborhood at LaGuardia. Every morning, Seth faced a long commute across the city. He started each school day with just a few hours' sleep. "I was running on empty," Seth recalls.
Seth earned good grades through his junior year, and he placed into several AP classes for senior year. But the added pressure of SATs, college applications, and a difficult English course became too much. Seth's grades went down, and he began skipping school. To graduate, Seth needed to repeat half of his classes, and the last thing he wanted to do was spend an extra year at LaGuardia. Eventually, Seth dropped out.
But fortunately for Seth, it wasn't long before he heard about The Door. The Door offers young New Yorkers tutoring, GED classes, college prep, and job placement, along with arts and recreation. And the program was just what Seth needed: His classes were small, and they were in the afternoon hours, which helped him keep a healthier schedule.
Seth credits his turnaround to one teacher at The Door -- Mark Schwartz. Mark would meet Seth in the mornings to visit New York's galleries and museums. Mark encouraged Seth's passion for drawing and painting, and his interest in art history. "To have a mentor in a teacher, to have a friend like that," Seth says, "is the best experience you can have at school."
Inspired by Mark, Seth kept up his art. He finished his coursework with an A average. He went from hating school to working as a teaching assistant. Now he's considering college at New York's School of Visual Arts. Seth still wishes he'd finished at his high school. "But if you can't," Seth says, "It's good to have people who can show you another way." And Seth is right here in the audience. (Applause.)
All of us have the obligation to invest in our young people -- young people like Seth. Today, I urge all Americans -- especially parents -- to be active participants in your children's education. Find out if your community has a dropout problem. Be vigilant about warning signs in your own children, like increased absences and declining grades. Start preparing your children for high school early, by making sure they learn to read.
Show young people that their education matters. Be a mentor. Go to teacher conferences. Attend school games, concerts, and plays. The effort will be well worth it. As Benjamin Franklin observed, the investment in our children's education pays the very best interest: happiness for our young people, and success for our country.
Thank you all very much for inviting me to speak today. Thanks to the participants in today's summit -- especially the students -- for your ideas. Thanks especially to Civic Enterprises, MTV, TIME, the Gates Foundation, and the National Governors Association for hosting this summit. And thanks to each and every one of you for your determination to make sure every child graduates from high school.
Thank you all very much, and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 11:03 A.M. EDT