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

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
July 26, 2001

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development
As Delivered
The East Room

Thank you very much, Dr. DeGioia. Congratulations to you on the arrival of the newest member of your family. I'm proud to present you with a gift to add to your son's first collection of book...


Congresswoman Northup; Secretary Thompson, Secretary Paige, I'm glad to see you all. Thank you for coming to the White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development.

I'm thrilled to be among this august group as we discuss a subject that's important to all of us, and to all Americans - our young children. President Bush and I receive a lot of mail from our nation's children. Their notes, ideas, and advice give us a lot of inspiration.

Recently a first-grader named Willi sent me a letter that said, "I have a great teacher who wants us all to read, and we all can read now. We read books and we even read the newspaper every day. PS: You forgot to mention to the USA that us kids want to learn to read too."

Your attendance today says that you are committed to children like Willi and their education - I applaud your willingness to listen and learn from leading professionals in early childhood development and education during this summit.

Before President Bush and I married, we had a couple of theories on raising kids. Now we have a couple of kids and no theories. But one thing we know for sure: What a child experiences from day one to grade one has a direct and profound impact on his future, and on our future.

If you have children, then like President Bush and me, you were probably not surprised to learn that science now confirms some of the hunches that parents have had for generations.

For example, language development begins long before a child speaks his first words, and learning how to read begins long before a child reaches school age.

The years from the crib to the classroom represent a period of intense language and cognitive growth. Children grow from babies with no language skills to children who can express themselves.

One young man named Victor expressed himself very well in a recent letter.

He wrote, "I love to read books. I learned to love books because my mother makes me read twenty minutes a day and write a book report. Books are an important part of my life. They teach many lessons and are also enjoyable. I read once that you were a librarian and therefore you know how important books are in a child's life."

Books are vital in a child's life...and so, of course, is parental involvement. From an early age, children need parents and grandparents; siblings and caregivers to spend time reading with them. Without this early preparation, children face a much steeper learning curve in school.

We hear a lot about children who struggle with reading and learning: According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 60 percent of fourth graders in our highest poverty schools still cannot read at a basic level.

President Bush and I sometimes get letters from children from high poverty schools. A fifth-grader wrote and said, "When I was a little boy, President Bush was still Governor of Texas...I heard that during that time you had been a librarian, and very interested in children reading. Remember, it is hard to get children to want to read because so many people live in great poverty."

This boy's eloquent, articulate letter demonstrates an important point: Economic status should not determine success or failure. Children can and do learn well despite difficult circumstances. Every child can learn to read. The President believes this, and I believe this.

Earlier this year I launched an initiative called Ready to Read, Ready to Learn. One of my goals is to call attention to pre-school programs with strong pre-reading and vocabulary activities for children.

For example, at the Margaret Cone Head Start Center in Dallas, teachers use a curriculum called LEAP - or the Language Enrichment Activities Program and, in fact, Nell Carvell, who developed LEAP, is with us today. 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, by the way, Texas Instruments funded this program at the Margaret Cone Center, 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.

With good instruction and supportive families, children learn language through interesting conversations that are enriched by stories and explanations.

We should support places like the Cone Center, and make sure that other pre-k programs can follow their lead.

As important as a good education...are good teachers. America needs more teachers.

Another element of my Ready to Read, Ready to Learn initiative is teacher recruitment. I support national projects like Teach For America, the New Teacher Project, and Troops to Teachers - all great efforts to encourage more people, from recent college graduates to career professionals, to consider becoming teachers.

And good teachers need the support of people like you - the experts. They need to know what you know about early childhood cognitive and language development.

When I first started teaching, I could have used that sort of guidance. Even with a degree in education and practice as a student teacher, I found I wasn't totally prepared for teaching - the job was much harder than I imagined.

I had instruction in teaching reading, of course, but in practice, I didn't know how to teach a child to read. I had to learn my own techniques as my students learned. I was sure of the importance of reading to my students, though, and when I reached the end of my list of activities for my students, I'd sit down with a good book and read to them.

Sharing children's literature with my students was my favorite part of the job and a favorite part of their day. I remember the books we read and how the characters in the books almost became members of the class. The books came to life and fueled their imaginations.

What I didn't know at the time was what science now confirms, and that is that repetition of the rhythm of speech is important to help the developing brain understand how language is organized. Thus, stories, songs, and nursery rhymes are vital daily activities to share with children.

Teachers - especially pre-K and early education teachers - need to have the latest information on the science of learning to read in order to teach effectively. When teachers use research-based practices, children - all children -- will learn the important skills upon which all learning is based.

While no two children learn to read at exactly the same pace and manner, we know what methods will best meet their individual needs. Armed with this information, we can make sure that every child learns to read...and then reads to learn.

Featured over the next two days are some of the nation's foremost researchers, policy makers and experts who will talk about early childhood cognitive development and brain research. They will discuss their work, the latest research, and the implications of this research.

We'll learn more about a pediatric-based program for language development and literacy; and about model pre-school programs that are working with great success around the country.

You'll receive information that everyone should know...not only mothers and fathers and caregivers, but also educators, health care professionals, policy makers, foundations, and businesses.

Our guests and guest-speakers come from diverse backgrounds and different schools of thought...but your presence here is proof that our goal is the same: healthy, happy, and well-educated young Americans.

The topic of our children rises above partisan politics and turf battles, and by being here, you have raised it to the level of importance that it truly deserves.

We all have the duty to call attention to the science and seriousness of early childhood cognitive development...because the ages between birth and age five are the foundation upon which successful lives are built.

Thanks again to everyone who made this summit possible. Secretary Thompson, Secretary Paige, I'm grateful to you both for your participation as hosts. Thanks to our speakers, who are lending their presence and prestige to this occasion. I look forward to hearing from all of you.

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