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

K-12 Education Symposium
Willard Inter-Continental Hotel
Washington, D.C.
February 28, 2001

Remarks of Laura Bush to the Hoover Institution

Thank you very much. I appreciate your inviting me to speak to you today. Lisa, thank you for that kind introduction.

Lisa Graham Keegan is known for her focus on educational improvement and reform. She originally developed her policies during her service in Arizona's House of Representatives, where she chaired the Education Committee and authored much of the reform legislation she now oversees as her state's Superintendent of Education. And, best yet - for many of you - Lisa is a Stanford grad!

I am pleased to recognize the Hoover Institution for its valuable role in the American dialogue and salute your contributions to public discourse and public policy and your interest in reforming public education in America.

As you know, education is an abiding interest of my own.

My love of learning, and of being in the classroom, date back to childhood.

I admired one of my teachers so much that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Her name was Mrs. Gnagy, and she was my second-grade teacher. Years later I did become a teacher, and those experiences are some of the most important of my life.

Of course, reading is the foundation for all learning - good reading skills are needed in every subject area, from math and science to government and history. And, research shows that children who are not reading well by the end of the third grade often have a difficult time catching up and becoming good readers.

President Bush has made education his number one priority. One of his first official acts as President was to send a package of education reforms to Congress. He's worried about the quality of some of our schools in America. He's concerned about the number of children who fall behind, and often stay behind in school.

Last night, in his address to Congress, President Bush laid out his commitment to education. He urged the members to pass his budget that strengthens and reforms education. This budget provides the Department of Education with the largest percentage spending increase of any federal department - 11.5 percent or $4.6 billion - and triples funding for children's reading programs.

And, he wants to make sure that wherever the money goes… accountability will follow.

He wants to help schools chart their own course to success through local control, high standards, accountability, and research-based reading programs. This is the President's plan. And this is the President's promise.

I want to help him keep that promise.

Two days ago I visited Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Maryland to introduce my education initiative called Ready to Read, Ready to Learn. This initiative supports and complements President Bush's education reform goals and builds on the work I began in Texas.

Ready to Read, Ready to Learn is based on three priorities.

First, we must recruit more teachers. I'm going to encourage more people to bring their talents, energy and enthusiasm to the classroom, especially in schools that need help the most.

Last week at the P.R. Harris campus here in the District I helped introduce the DC Teaching Fellows Programs.

While there, I met a new teacher, David Greene. David had been a financial adviser but changed careers because he wanted to give something back to his community. He spoke with passion about his students, who challenge him every day. Clearly, they have changed his life as much as he's changing theirs.

An august list of applicants are waiting to become DC Teaching Fellows: a Fulbright Scholar, an education writer and editor, a business executive, attorneys, and university professors.

The DC Teaching Fellows Program is a partnership between the school district and

The New Teacher Project, a non-profit group that helps school districts recruit and train new teachers who are willing to change careers to work in underserved schools.

The New Teacher project is working with school districts across the country to establish teaching fellows programs, and I am glad to lend my support to this effort.

We need more highly qualified professionals to become teachers - and bring their knowledge and life experiences to our classrooms.

Another innovative teacher recruiting program is called Teach For America.

Teach For America was founded by, then Princeton senior, Wendy Kopp, to recruit our country's best and brightest college students into a two-year teaching commitment in rural and inner-city schools.

Since 1989, more than 6,000 Teach For America teachers have taught nearly a half million children.

I am thrilled to support Teach for America, and look forward to helping Wendy reach her goal of nearly tripling the number of new teachers in the program.

By visiting college campuses and schools I hope to encourage our nation's up and coming leaders to choose teaching as their profession.

Beyond recruiting, I plan to practice what I preach - and teach a little myself. This October, I plan to volunteer my time in the classroom during Teach For America Week.

I'm also going to call in the military! Retired members of the military protected our nation in war and led the world in peace, and many are well qualified to guide children in school.

We need to help tap this respected pool of talent by supporting the Troops to Teachers Program.

Many in the Troops to Teachers Program have science, math, and engineering degrees - disciplines that our children desperately need. Beyond that, these men and women are tremendous role models with a sense of duty, honor and country that our children would do well to emulate.

President Bush wants to boost funding for the Troops to Teachers program from $3 million to $30 million, to help these skilled professionals continue to serve their country where they are needed the most - our classrooms.

On visits to bases around the country I will seek to enlist - make that re-enlist - more teachers from the ranks of our armed forces. I am proud to add my voice to the chorus of supporters of these teacher recruitment programs.

These programs not only look for the best and brightest minds to send into our classrooms, they also look for the qualities that make for excellent teachers: an ability to thrive on overcoming challenges, a drive to achieve results, and a commitment to setting the highest expectations.

And that's not all. Before these new teachers enter a classroom, they receive intensive training and guidance from veteran educators. Once in the classroom, they have access to an extensive support network - including mentors, university coursework toward certification and/or a Master's degree, and opportunities to exchange information with other new teachers.

My second priority will be to spotlight early childhood programs...those proven to help successfully prepare children for reading and learning long before they pick up a backpack or board their first school bus.

For example, at the Margaret Cone Head Start Center in Dallas, teachers use a curriculum called LEAP or the Language Enrichment Activities Program. This program is rich in pre-reading and vocabulary development activities. Strong pre-reading and vocabulary skills are good predictors of a child's later success in school.

Before LEAP was introduced in 1994, children who left the Cone Center and entered the local public school scored as low as the 21st percentile on the national Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Several years after using the LEAP curriculum, children's achievement levels soared on average to the 94th percentile nationally.

We should spotlight more successful pre-school programs, like the Cone Center, which immerse children in an environment that's rich with pre-reading and vocabulary-boosting activities. And, we should support the President's "Early Reading First" program that will fund research-based programs in pre-schools and Head Start centers.

President Bush and I support the valuable health, nutrition, and social programs that Head Start provides. We look forward to working with Head Start and others to create even richer learning experiences for more children.

Soon, I will join Secretary of Education Rod Paige in launching a new feature on the Department of Education's web site - a page called "How Will I Know a Good Early Reading Program When I See One?"

The web page is designed to help parents know if their schools are using effective methods to teach children to read. How do we know what is proven and effective? Reading researchers have developed a checklist to help parents determine what programs work.

I hope you don't mind, but I want to give you a sneak preview of this checklist, because it is an important tool for parents and schools.

In schools with good early reading programs, teachers show their enthusiasm for reading. Likewise, they teach children to love reading through relevant instruction and practice.

"Relevant" instruction will help children:

When we talk about practicing reading, we mean that children need practice up to 90 minutes every day with words, sentences, and stories.

Schools with good reading programs measure reading knowledge at the beginning of kindergarten and at the end of every school year. Parents should be part of the measurement process.

Schools should send home children's results with a report of grade level achievement and a remediation plan, if one is needed. For example, children should have additional structured instruction each day if they are falling behind and if they are still behind at the end of the school year, summer school should be available.

Because I worked as a classroom teacher and a librarian, many of these concepts seem like common sense.

But in many cases, parents simply don't have access to this kind of information. They don't know what should take place in school every day to ensure that their children learn to read on grade level, and continue reading on grade level. Parents and caregivers need this vital information at their fingertips. I'm thrilled that the Department of Education will provide it very soon.

My third priority will be to give parents, teachers and caregivers the right kinds of information about learning and development - factual information based on years of research and sound science.

For example, we know that a toddler's vocabulary is closely related to how much time an adult spends reading and talking with him. Babies need a steady dose of rich language interaction that only an adult can give.

Just 15 years ago, scientists thought the structure of the brain was solely genetically determined. The brain also uses experience to establish the higher-functioning neural connections. Simply stated, experiences between adults and infants strengthen neural connections in babies' brains.

Television is no substitute for a parent. It doesn't help develop language skills; it's simply background noise. Children need to hear language directly from an adult. And, one of the best ways to do that is to read to babies and toddlers early and often.

We need to spotlight programs that help parents introduce young children to the world of books and language at home. For example, pediatricians in Boston actually began to "prescribe" books to their young patients through a project they later called Reach Out and Read.

Reach Out and Read works. Research shows that Reach Out and Read-type activities increase family literacy orientation by 40 percent.

Now because of hundreds of Reach Out and Read programs throughout the country, children leave their pediatrician's office with a new book of their own, and parents leave with ideas on how to help their children develop greater language skills.

Dr. Perri Klass, medical director and president of Reach Out and Read, wants to further expand this vital program in communities across the country. I look forward to helping her do so.

Education reform depends on accountability. Education success depends on early reading. And America's future depends on our teachers. These are my priorities.

We sometimes make excuses for why our children don't succeed. Some rationalize a child's lack of achievement by his family situation, his economic status, his language background, or his learning difficulties. The President calls this "the soft bigotry of low expectations."

One new friend of ours came from a background in which it would have been easy to make excuses for failure, but instead she was brought up to meet great expectations.

She was born in Puerto Rico, and when she was a child, she and her family left the Island for the mainland. She did not speak one word of English. Her mother could barely read or write her own name.

But for her family, these were not limitations; they were merely challenges on the road to success. Adela learned English. She studied hard in school. She went to college. And one day, she became a teacher, and then she became a principal.

We first met this principal, Adela Acosta, at the President's education roundtable on his first day of work at the White House.

There, she told us her story, and she humbly used herself as an example that every child can learn.

She said, "I always felt like I wasn't an achiever in school; I always felt that I was a bad student."

But she wanted to succeed more than anything else, and it is her hunger to learn and desire to achieve that she remembers most from childhood. During a recent visit, her mother shared the report cards Adela had brought home as a young girl. Adela looked over the cards, and she was shocked to see that she had never missed a day of school. She hadn't remembered the perfect attendance records.

Her mother said in response, "Of course you didn't miss a day! School is very important."

Adela's mother may not have been able to help her daughter with homework. But she could make sure Adela went to school every day. By doing so she guaranteed her daughter the opportunities she never had...the chance to learn to read and write...the chance to succeed in life.

If we sell our children short, we sell our future short.

Adella is now the principal at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Hyattsviille, Maryland.

She welcomed me into her school with the words, "Mi escuela es su school is your school."

I can't think of a better motto for education reform...My school is your school. Education reform isn't about turf battles. It's about working together for a common cause...our children.

I hope you will help us carry out our mission for better education in the United States...with every child at hand, and every success at heart.

After all, children are one quarter of our population and 100 percent of our future.

Many of you have much to contribute to the public discourse on education. We would do well to listen to one another.

Last night the President spelled out his plan for education reform. We hope you will join us in our mission to ensure that no child is left behind.

We must do more than say that all children can learn. Like Adela Acosta, we must believe it…and we must make it happen.

Thank you for inviting me today.

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