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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 20, 2001

President and Mrs. Bush's Remarks at an Education Roundtable
Sullivan Elementary School
Columbus, Ohio
Read the President's Education Initiative: pdf (1688 kb)

10:42 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Maria, thanks very much for your hospitality. I hope you thank all the people that are on your staff that accommodated this hord of folks that travel with me. (Laughter.) And I hope we haven't been too disruptive, but it's an honor to be here.

First, I want to say thanks to my friend, the Governor. It's good to see you again, Bob. I appreciate your hard work here. I want to thank the congressional delegation that traveled with me -- the Senator, two Congressmen -- other than Congressman Pat Tiberi from this district. Debra Price and Dave Hobson came down on the plane with us, and I appreciated our discussion and thanks for your time, both of you. And thank you, Mike, as well, for being here.

I want to thank my friends, the Wexlers, for being here. One of the things we saw was a program of mentors. And it's a good way to lead into the strength of an accountability system and what it means, because a mentor is really not very effective unless there is a need identified. I mean, what we need to use mentors for and hosts -- and a host program for is to combine the love of our citizenry with enabling children to learn to read, in this case, by identifying problems.

One of the things that I'm insisting that the Congress enact is a law that says that if you receive federal money, you, the state or the local jurisdiction, must measure to show us whether or not children are learning. The heart of education reform is accountability. The heart of making sure every child learns and no child is left behind is accountability. Because how do you know if you don't measure? How can you possibly judge whether a child is learning to read and write and add and subtract unless we know?

A system that refuses to be held accountable is a system that shuffles children through. And guess who gets shuffled through? In my state, oftentimes children whose parents didn't speak English as a first language. Inner city children. It's so much easier to walk into a room and say, oh, these kids aren't supposed to learn, let's just move them through. It will be okay. Somewhere along the line something positive may happen. That's unacceptable to me, and I think it's beginning to be unacceptable to America. I know it's unacceptable to Rosa. I got to know Rosa last summer when I was in your school district, and she knows what I know -- that good education starts with high standards and the unfailing belief that every child can learn, regardless of their background or their circumstances.

Secondly, that local control of schools is paramount to change and excellence. It's important to empower the superintendents, like Rosa. She knows what I know, a great principal of a school is going to make an enormous difference as to whether or not children learn. One of the reasons we picked this school is because of Maria's guidance and leadership.

But also the cornerstone of reform and the need to make sure we meet the national goal of no child being left behind, is to test. I'm unalterably opposed to a national test. Any kind of national test would undermine local curriculum and local control of schools.

But I do believe it makes sense and is right to ask the question: if you receive federal money, what are the results for the money spent? I know that some say, well, testing is punishment. Testing is a diagnostic tool, necessary to correct problems early, before it's too late.

Later on, I'll be in St. Louis, Missouri, today, and I'm going to talk about a reading initiative that will start at the Head Start program. But in order to make sure any reading initiative or any math initiative that takes place is effective, we must measure. And we must make sure that children, by the way, all start at the same spot, at the same starting point in order for the accountability systems to make sense.

I think it's fundamentally -- well, I know it's fundamentally important to ask the question, what works. They say, well, the host program works. Well, how do you know if you don't measure.

When we ask the question, what works -- Rosa asks that question all the time here in the Columbus School District. And the feedback she gets from accountability system will help determine, not theory, but the practicality of good curriculum and teacher training programs and giving students the necessary language skills to be able to succeed in our society.

So I'm here to talk about accountability as the cornerstone for the kinds of reforms that will empower local folks to make necessary decisions. One of the key components of any accountability system is there must be a consequence. If there is success, there must be a consequence. Often times, the best success, as these local educators will tell you, is to have a parent walk up -- like our good parent here, Brenda -- and say, thanks for what you're doing, you saved my son, or you saved my daughter. That's the best feedback.

But I also believe there needs to be bonus plans and my budget will include some notion for bonuses for districts that succeed. However, if we find failure, there must be consequence. And I believe that districts ought to be given -- those who received federal money ought to be given a reasonable period of time to correct problems. And there needs to be some intermediate help to help districts correct problems.

But at some point in time there has to be a final moment -- at some point in time we've got to say, failure is unacceptable. We believe every child can learn; and since every child isn't learning, something else must happen. And I believe the best program is that which empowers local districts, empowers us to make different choices. If the children are mired in mediocrity and failure.

I'm excited about the progress I've seen being made on our public school reform in Washington, D.C. It starts with the understanding that Washington is not the fount of all knowledge. As a matter of fact, we're going to pass power back out of Washington, to empower people at the local level. But it's important for us to have that national goal of every child being educated and the best public school system ever possible on the face of the Earth. And that's a goal both Republicans and Democrats and those who don't care about any political party can agree on.

And we're making progress, and I look forward to working with members on both sides of the aisle to put the most important cornerstone of reform in place, and that's accountability. Someone who is not afraid of being accountable because she's got an unbelievably positive record and a positive spirit and a great attitude is the Superintendent of schools right here in Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Rosa Smith. (Applause.)

DR. SMITH: President Bush and Mrs. Bush, we're glad to have you here because my board of education and I do believe in accountability. Three years ago we implemented an accountability system which categorizes our schools based on a testing program. And it allows us to know which schools need more support, which schools to celebrate and, ultimately, which schools need consequences.

We have an assessment program here in Columbus Public Schools where every nine weeks we assess our students -- not to see what is taught, but to see what was learned, in order to know how to inform our teaching. And this evening our board will be considering a plan which addresses the lack of improvement for our 22 lowest performing schools, which has a lot of support. So we can erase all the excuses, school excuses, for no success, and then for those schools that do not improve over two years with this support, then there are alternative consequences. So we are aligned with the things you have in your plan.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, Rosa. As I mentioned, I had the honor of meeting Rosa last summer, and to show you how powerful she is, she said, you need to appoint Dr. Rod Paige to become Secretary of Education. (Laughter.) Well, six months later I did. (Laughter.)

MS. STOCKARD: I think it's really important to hear a teacher's perspective. Maicie Glover is a 3rd and 4th grade reading teacher in our building. I'm sorry to say that this is her last year, she will be retiring and will be sadly, sadly missed. She has impacted the lives of many, many children along the way. And I don't know what we'll do without her. But I think she has an interesting perspective on assessment and what exactly that means. It means different things to different people. So I think it's important to hear a teacher's perspective of that.

MS. GLOVER: Thanks, Maria. We believe that assessments are a very effective means by which we gather data so that we can further plan for the instructions of our children in order that they can be successful, so that we can determine their weaknesses and their strengths, so that we can not only make plans for the children, but it's also a very resourceful tool for teachers so that they can plan and generate whatever is necessary to meet these needs. We want our students to achieve, so assessments are very, very valuable tools to gather data for that purpose.

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think that's important for people to hear. The assessment system is never meant to punish, it is meant to provide a useful tool to both teacher and specialists and principals and superintendents to determine what works.

There's a lot of discussion about parental involvement in schools. There is nothing that will make a parent more involved than to know whether or not his or her child is learning. One of the things that in my state I did when I was the governor was encourage there to be open transparency when it came to performance. So everybody knew, so everybody was aware of whether or not their school -- a lot of parents think their school is doing just fine, until the results are posted.

And we've got a parent here that I can't wait for you all to hear from. (Laughter.) I got an earful behind the scenes. (Laughter.) A positive earful. (Laughter.) Tell us your story, Brenda.

MRS. SEFFRIN: Well, first of all, I think parents need to be held accountable also. It starts at home. And that's what we have to realize. Yes, the schools can be held accountable, the teachers can be held accountable, the students can be held accountable. But we have to get involved. We have to be accountable at home for our children. We need to get parents more involved.

My son, in 1st grade we found out he was learning disabled. And the first thing they wanted to do was put him in special ed, and I was, like, there is no way, he can be taught just like any other normal kid.

Q He didn't go here. (Laughter.)

Q No, he did not. But we found Mrs. Stockard, we found this school. She got him a tutor. They're saying by 6th grade he will not need a tutor any longer, he will not be learning disabled. He's making his own grades. He's one grade away from the honor roll here, doing his own work. And it's amazing. This school is amazing. And I owe it all to this school.

THE PRESIDENT: You were going to tell me something? (Laughter.) Don't panic --

Q Why are you putting me on the spot? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, join the club. (Laughter.)

Q I just was wondering if you could recommend any programs for our school to help encourage children -- and this if for you, too -- to write books, as well as read books. If there was anything that we could do.

THE PRESIDENT: My recommendation is you tell Maria that. (Laughter.) The truth of the matter is, the best way to achieve objectives is to empower people at the local level to make those decisions. That's why a good principal, like Maria, will encourage parental involvement, so she gets feedback from what parents would like to see their children doing.

Part of the problem is Washington -- people look at Washington and say, well, we've got all the answers up there. And the truth of the matter is, we don't -- particularly when it comes to education. We may be able to provide some funding, so long as that funding is not so prescriptive that it hamstrings the ability for people to make decisions necessary, because I can assure the schools in Columbus, Ohio are really different from Laredo, Texas. The children are to be loved, but we've got different challenges in different parts of the country. And that is why flexibility is important.

And that's why specific programs that you'd like to see incorporated in the schools ought to be taken to the principal and not to some distant land called Washington, D.C.

Q I've been fortunate to work with Governor Taft, he's been extremely supportive -- extremely supportive of the schools. And he has not only said what he was going to do, he has actually done it. He is a tutor, dedicated to the children of Columbus public schools. And he has allowed us the opportunity to get funding to implement our Columbus Reads -- I'm talking about Columbus Reads, also. We have wonderful tutors that come from the Limited, four days a week, 30 minutes a day. The governor has been very, very supportive in providing us some funding for that. And so I thought maybe you could talk a little bit about that.

GOVERNOR TAFT: Maria, first of all, thank you for your extraordinary leadership of this school. It is truly a remarkable place and I think it's a tribute to you and to your excellent staff here, to the parental support and also to the leadership of Rosa Smith.

This is an improving school, Mr. President. Year after year, this school improves. And they measure and they know how they are improving. But, unfortunately, that's not true of every school in the Columbus district, or every school in Ohio. And that's why we want to have for every school what is happening here in this school, which is really the cornerstone of what you are proposing at the national level.

And, in fact, we had a commission in Ohio this past year -- the Commission on Student Success -- and Rosa helped us out with that and some other folks here, as well, looking at the issue of how can Ohio have the best possible system of high standards and assessment aligned with those standards, and then accountability for results. And that report aligns virtually 100 percent with the program that you have proposed at the national level.

And I want to recognize some of our legislative leaders who are here today because they made it House bill 1 and Senate bill 1 in the state of Ohio, the recommendations of the Commission on Student Success --

Assessment enables you to know when you need to intervene and how you can help the kids that aren't learning what they need to be knowing. And we're doing that here at this school with a lot of different types of intervention, one of which, as you saw in the classroom, are tutors. And we have now across Ohio some 27,000 volunteer tutors in the elementary schools, each helping a child each week to learn how to read.

I think there are something like 1,500 employees who are involved in tutoring in one way or another, and there are many companies -- (applause.) But there are many other groups -- the Governor's Office, private companies, small businesses, who are involved in our Ohio Reads campaign to support the children who need help.

But as you say, unless you assess, you don't know which kids need the help and how to marshal those resources to make sure that no child is left behind.

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that, Governor. The Governor recognized legislators who will decide the fate of the program. I need to do the same thing. (Laughter.) One of the things chief executives in government know, we get to propose, we just don't get to write the law. We occasionally get to veto law, but we don't get to write it.

There's a lot of pressure on members from a couple of fronts. One is the no testing crowd, based upon there's no role for government. I strongly disagree, and I hope you agree with me, because we need to be results-oriented people. All we're asking is, is it working? What are the results?

There's another segment of our society, the no testing crowd saying, all they do is teach the test. Well, just ask Brenda what it's like to see her son get taught how to read, who then was able to pass the literacy test.

There's a group of folks that will say you can't test because it's racist. What's racist is not testing. What's racist it seems like to me is giving up on kids, just move them through and hope we get it right, and hope we get it right. One of the most profound statements I heard was from a lady in Houston who was the reading czarina from the Houston Independent School District who worked for Rod, named Phyllis Hunter. She said reading is the new civil right. That's a pretty powerful statement when you think about it.

The fate of the program that I've submitted depends upon members of the United States Congress, and you've elected a good one from the Columbus area named Tiberi, sitting right up here. Are you with me, Pat? (Laughter.) Not to put any pressure on you. (Laughter.) Just teasing.

REPRESENTATIVE TIBERI: Do I have the stage? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: You've got the vote and you've got the stage.

REPRESENTATIVE TIBERI: Well, as a new member of the Education Committee as well, Mr. President, this is truly an issue that is passionate to you. And I just want to applaud you -- if you spend five minutes with the President you know how passionate he is about improving public education in the United States of America. And I am proud that you came to Columbus, that you came to the Columbus public schools. As Dr. Smith knows, I'm a proud graduate of the Columbus public schools. And this school is a dynamite example of what good can happen in Columbus' schools.

This is a learning experience for me, as well, and just listening to the parent right next to me about the improvement of Jonathan, her 3rd-grader, is a testament that things can happen in a positive way. This is an exciting time not only for educators, but for children and parents across America, as the focus is on education reform, that no child should be left behind. And the recipe for success, as you know, is not just the federal government, it's all of us working together. And we in Columbus have a great formula for that success, with the state participating, with, obviously, the Columbus schools participating, with the private sector participating, as well. And there's also room for parents -- a very important part of that equation. And I think it's great to hear stories like Brenda's because it refuels the flame that we can make a difference.

THE PRESIDENT: That means yes. (Laughter.) Smart man, holding out to the --(laughter.) Thanks for traveling with us, Pat. I am passionate on the subject. I can't think of a more noble goal than to make sure every child is educated. And it's going to happen. You see, the systems in the past have viewed kind of mass migrations of students through, and one of the things that an accountability-oriented system will do is we start judging each child on his or her individual merit.

One of the keys to success -- and I think we're going to get this out of Congress, by the way, and I hope the members of the legislation support the Governor on this -- is to do what they call disaggregating results. When you measure, you must measure on a child-by-child basis. Think about the reform means that when we start viewing -- saying each child matters, and we're going to track each child based upon his or her progress, it starts to provide the catalyst for ultimate change, which is a system that slowly, surely evolves away from the mass migration of students through schools to tailoring programs to meet an individual's needs.

The mentoring program that the Limited has put in place is the beginnings of a system that is able to focus on a child on a one-to-one basis. Rosa says that they assess each child's progress on a nine-week basis. That says we're first asking the question, what about this particular child? In the past, accountability systems that really weren't holding people accountable would just lump people into an overall group.

And so I want to applaud the members of the Ohio legislature for being willing to think about how to encourage reform within the system.

There's a lot of debate about school choice, and there should be. That's fine. But the cornerstone for reform is accountability, ultimately, giving parents, if need be, depending on whether the state likes it or not, the opportunity to make a different choice. That's up to the state. As far as I'm concerned, if a district receives federal money, and that school won't teach and won't change, then at some point in time, that money should not go to continue to fuel failure.

And one option is charters, and one option is school choice, but another option is private tutoring or private schools. But that's -- and the Congress is going to wrestle with that issue. But the whole reason I'm here today is to remind people that the true agent for reform is accountability. And be willing to measure on a child by child basis, and then correct on a child by child basis, where correction is needed. And you watch what happens in America.

The spirit of reform, and as Pat said, the willingness for people to discuss this issue in an open way, is going to really reinvigorate the public schools, and to say to our teachers loud and clear, we love you for teaching, and to say to our Principals, thanks for being the catalyst, the educational entrepreneurs we need, to herald the great Superintendents around the country that are making a major difference. That's what this is all about.

And this is something our country must achieve and will achieve. And it's not going to come out of the federal government. We're just a small part of it. But one thing the President can do is to continue talking about this issue until we get it right. And that's exactly what I'm going to do. (Applause.)

Q I just want to say Amen to that first, Mr. President. I also want to make one other point, and ask Maria to make a comment. Something that's missed when we talk about clear standards and assessment is that it's to provide feedback about the performance of the child, not only to the teacher and the school, but to the child and to the parent of that parent. And Maria has done something here, very interesting, in terms of how you bar chart or show progress. Would you just mention that Maria?

MS. STOCKARD: First I need to take this opportunity to also show appreciation to my staff. Every single -- it's wonderful to be the Principal here. (Applause.) I never do anything alone. They are -- we are together, and they do everything possible. They have made the choice to work here, and they do everything possible so that we can increase academic achievement.

What we've decided that a missing piece to student achievement was children understanding how they were doing. That the teacher has all the knowledge, maybe their parent -- their parents have all the knowledge. The child might not have any clue, until the report card would come out, about how they're doing. So what we've developed are student centered rubrics that -- we use bar graphs, simple bar graphs, to show a child his or her progress -- where they are at the beginning of the year, where they should be at the second grading period, where they should be at the third grading period.

And it's as simple as a bar graph with a line at a top, and they color in the squares, based on the different levels they're achieving. They can see the goal, where they're going, where they need to be at each grading period, and so can the teacher. It's a visual for the teacher, it's a visual for the child.

So an important piece of assessment is a child having an assessment that they can use, and understand how they're doing. They need to understand -- that is an important piece -- if a child doesn't know, it's -- and I think that probably Mrs. Bush has some insight on these things, because she is an educator first. And I think it would be very important for us to hear what you have to say.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I am a former school teacher and school librarian, and I love to visit schools. One thing that I hope to work on in my role is trying to attract young people to the teaching profession. (Applause.) I know that when Mrs. Glover retires, the whole school system will loose someone who's so experienced and knowledgeable, but I hope that there will be some young and very idealistic person who will want to move in and --

Q I just may come back.

MRS. BUSH: That's right. You're still idealistic. But anyway, I think it's very important for all of us in our whole society to value teachers like they should be valued. Teachers really have the most profound profession. They impact our whole country, every person. And every single person, I'm sure, has a memory of a teacher who inspired them or really changed their life by letting them know something they could do that they didn't know they could do.

So I hope to have that opportunity to encourage people to choose teaching as a profession again. A lot of people have left teaching because it's so difficult. It's a very, very challenging profession. But I hope young people will start thinking about it again as a profession. And I also want to thank all the teachers that are here, for your dedication.

THE PRESIDENT: Fred, have you got anything else you want to say, now that you're warmed up? (Laughter.)

Q No, but thank you for being here. It really meant a lot.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks. We're delighted. Well, what do you think, Gov?

GOVERNOR TAFT: I think you've got Congressman Tiberi's vote. (Laughter.) Senator DeWine is looking very supportive back there.

THE PRESIDENT: He is supportive.

GOVERNOR TAFT: And Congresswoman Price as well. I think that she looks supportive. I think you're making some headway. And I just want to say this, we really appreciate the fact that you have come to Ohio to highlight your education program.

THE PRESIDENT: It's a great state.

GOVERNOR TAFT: Really your first domestic trip outside of Washington. We're honored.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks. It's a great state, and it seems like every time I come to Columbus, I'm coming to another school. That's a great testimony to the school district. And for those in Columbus who don't realize this, actually I've got some roots here. My Grandfather was raised in Columbus, Ohio. Yes, Prescott S. Bush. So we're proud of the city, and really appreciate the hospitality always shown when we come here.

Thanks very much for having us. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

END 10:07 A.M. EST

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document