|The White House
President George W. Bush
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Cesar Chavez Elementary School
February 26, 2001
Ready to Read, Ready to Learn
Remarks of Laura Bush
Thank you for that great introduction, Adela. Im glad to see you again and Im honored to be your guest at Cesar Chavez Elementary School.
The last time we met was at the Presidents Reading Education Roundtable on his first day at work in the White House.
Secretary Paige, thank you for being here today. Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Paige is the first Superintendent of Schools ever to be appointed Secretary of Education.
President Bush and I have great faith in your abilities to improve education in our country. We salute you.
What a beautiful school! The colors, los colores, are wonderful, and everything looks great. Just as Cesar Chavez was a man who represented pride, dignity and honor, so does this beautiful school represent your pride.
Im thrilled to see so many parents here supporting their children. I wish the rest of the country could see you, too...because youre proof that parents do care about what goes on in the classroom. You deserve a round of applause.
I also want to thank every teacher here because you do so much more than teach. You inspire, you challenge and you mentor children who need your guidance.
I know you dont hear often enough how much we appreciate you. I know, because Ive been there. I worked in public schools as a teacher and a librarian. Its often a difficult job, but its a rewarding one. What you do in the classroom determines the future for your students...and for our country.
President Bush knows that, so hes made education his number one priority: He wants to give Americas teachers and schools greater flexibility, freedom and support to do your job... so that every child is educated and no child is left behind.
At Cesar Chavez Elementary, you set high standards to match the high hopes that parents have for their children.
From the crib to the classroom, children need parents, teachers and other adults to help them prepare for success in school and in life. Some of Americas schools need extra help, and President Bush has a plan to help them succeed.
He wants to help you chart your own course to success through local control, high standards, accountability, and research-based reading programs. This is the Presidents plan. And this is the Presidents promise.
I want to help him keep that promise.
Today Im proud to help announce an initiative that will do just that. The initiative is called Ready to Read, Ready to Learn, and its based on three priorities.
First, I want to help recruit more teachers. Im going to encourage more people to bring their talents, energy and enthusiasm to the classroom.
In fact, last week I was at P.R. Harris School, to announce the D.C. Teaching Fellows Program. There, I met two new teachers. One was a financial adviser who 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 hes changing theirs.
One DC Teaching Fellows Program applicant said it well...She said, "My current job is demanding and financially very rewarding, but for me, a job is more than a paycheck. It must be demanding and rewarding in a way that can only be found in the moments when a student finally understands a difficult concept, or when a class captures, in some measure, the enthusiasm I have for learning."
An august list of people are waiting to become teaching fellows: a Fulbright Scholar, an education writer and editor, a business executive, attorneys, and university professors.
The Fellows Program is modeled from the New Teacher Project, which helps school districts recruit and train new teachers who have changed careers to work in low-income schools. Michele Rhee, from the New Teacher Project, is here today.
Michele works outside of the District as well...in at least seven other states including California, Missouri, Texas, and Florida and I am glad to lend my support to her work.
Wendy Kopp is also here today. Wendy started Teach For America to recruit new college graduates into a two-year teaching commitment. 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 I look forward to helping Wendy reach her goal of nearly tripling the number of new teachers in the program.
I am committing my time and efforts to visit college campuses and schools encouraging our nations 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 will volunteer my time in the classroom during Teach For America Week. Even as we speak, Im negotiating with others to join me...including my husband, President Bush.
I wont stop at the White House, though. Im going to call in the military! Retired members of the military protected our nation in war and led the world in peace, and they are well qualified to guide children in school.
Brigadier General De Ann McWilliams is here today. Thank you for coming.
General McWilliams is the US Army Director of Personnel Management, and helps lead a great effort called Troops to Teachers.
Many in the Troops to Teachers Program have science, math, and engineering degrees - disciplines that our schools 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 Troops to Teachers from $3 million to $30 million, and I am proud to support it as well.
I will visit bases around the country to enlist - or re-enlist - more teachers from the ranks of retired military.
My second priority will be to spotlight early childhood programs...those proven successful in preparing 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, which is rich in pre-reading and vocabulary development. The Cone Center has met with great results.
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, childrens scores soared to the 94th percentile nationally (on average).
I want to spotlight more successful pre-school programs which immerse children in an environment thats rich with pre-reading and vocabulary-boosting activities. These specific skills are vital for success later in school.
I will continue to put a spotlight on pre-school programs, like the Cone Center, which have implemented curricula rich in pre-reading and vocabulary skills - skills that are the strong predictors of a childs later success in school.
I will also be actively supporting and promoting President Bushs "Early Reading First" program which will fund research-based programs in pre-schools and Head Start centers.
The purpose of this program is to illustrate on a larger scale recent research findings that children taught pre-reading and math skills in pre-school enter school ready to learn reading and mathematics.
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.
One more thing - Dr. Paige, and I hope you don't mind my mentioning this - but soon I'll join him as the Department of Education launches a new feature on its 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 proven and effective methods to teach children to read.
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, not rhetoric and sound-bytes.
For example, we know that a toddlers vocabulary is closely related to how much time an adult spends reading and talking with him.
Who can ever forget the day a child takes his first steps? And who can forget a childs first words...one baby step leads to another, then another...and so it is with words. One word follows another, and language follows words. Tiny steps turn into leaps of the mind. Language development is just as amazing - and tricky - as learning to walk.
Thats why it is so important for parents to read and talk to their children. 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 genetically determined. Now they know thats not the case. Another ground-breaking discovery is that the brain 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 doesnt help develop language skills; its simply background noise. Children need to hear language early and often directly from an adult.
Parents, you have the most important role. You are your childs first and foremost teacher. And though you cant come to class every day, you want to learn what works - you want to know how your children can be better students when the time comes.
One of the leading experts on how children learn is Dr. Reid Lyon - Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Lyon is with us today. Thank you for coming, Reid.
He and others like him want to get valuable information into the hands of parents so they can help their children.
In another effort, pediatricians in Boston came up with a new way to introduce babies to the world of language and books at home.
They 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 pediatricians office with a book of their own, and parents leave with ideas on how to help their children develop greater language skills.
I will work closely with Dr. Perri Klass and the Reach Out and Read National Center in Boston to further expand this vital program in communities across the country.
Dr. Klass is the Medical Director and President of Reach Out and Read. She is here today. Thank you for coming.
Education reform depends on accountability. Education success depends on early reading. And Americas future depends on our teachers. These are my priorities.
We sometimes make excuses for why our children dont succeed. Some use family situations, economic status, language backgrounds or learning difficulties to rationalize a childs lack of achievement. The President calls this "the soft bigotry of low expectations".
We must do more than say that all children can learn. We must believe it.
If Cesar Chavez were here today, he would agree...he would say, in the words that immortalized him, "Si se puede!" And he would be right. You can do it!
We are wise enough to know what can be done; we are bold enough to reach across ideological lines and work together; and we are strong enough to ask nothing but the best from those who would lead the way.
I am proud to be a part of President Bushs effort to ensure that no child is left behind. I hope you will join us in our mission...with every child at hand, and every success at heart. Thank you.