print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
In Focus
News by Date
Federal Facts
West Wing

 Home > News & Policies > January 2001

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 25, 2001

Remarks by the President to Students and Faculty at Merritt Elementary School
Merritt Elementary School Washington, D.C.

10:30 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: It's always a good sign when the principal gets a standing ovation -- (laughter) -- from teachers and parents. Having spent some quality time with you, I now understand why.

President George W. Bush talks with students at Merritt Elementary School Jan. 25, 2001.

First, Mr. Superintendent, thank you very much. Your reputation is a strong one, because you believe every child can learn, and are willing to work hard and make the tough decisions to make sure every child does learn in the District. Mr. Superintendent, thanks for coming.

I am so pleased and honored that the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and the Ranking Minority Leader, Senator Jeffords and Senator Kennedy are here; Chairman Boehner, Representative Miller came as well. You all did not have to come. And for you to come is not only a great honor for this school, but Laura and I really appreciate it.

I'm also pleased the First Lady is here. (Applause.) I always used to say, you can always judge the nature of a man by the company he keeps. (Laughter.) And I keep pretty darn good company -- (laughter) -- particularly when it comes to children and reading and education. She is a former public school librarian who loves children, who loves books, and has got the ability to combine the two. And I love her. (Applause.)

Dr. Shannon, thanks for coming. Those of us who have been involved with public education know this irrefutable fact, that the quality of a school depends on the quality of a principal. That when you find a good principal, the CEO of a school, you'll find a school that achieves what we all want, every child learning.

And there are some basic principles involved. One is to have leadership not only at the district level, but at the school level, set the highest of high standards. Leaders that understand that every child can learn, and refuse to accept excuses when they don't. Dr. Shannon believes that way. She asked a question, why aren't our children achieving? And when they begin to achieve, she raises the bar. That's what a leader does.

Secondly, and the reason we've come to Merritt, besides getting out of the White House -- (laughter) -- is to herald what happens inside the walls here. And what happens here is there is a strong sense of accountability, which means there is a strong sense of the possible. Accountability is so important. And by accountability I mean testing children to determine whether or not children are learning. I believe it's the cornerstone of reform. I believe it's the essence of excellence in education. And I believe it's important to do so, to test every year, to make sure children are not left behind.

I worry about a system that doesn't test, because I have to question, like Dr. Shannon's question, how do you know if you don't. I worry about a system that periodically tests, because one year, you may test and everything is fine. In four years, you measure again, and all of a sudden something isn't fine, and you've missed four years of opportunity to make sure a child doesn't slip behind.

Accountability is important for students. It's important for -- and I know students don't like to take tests, and I'm confident the parents here heard the same thing Laura and I heard when our daughters went to Austin High School, were sick of tests. And my answer was, well, I'm sorry you're sick of it, but we want to know. We, the adults, want to know whether or not you're learning, because if you're not, we expect something else to happen. So it's important for children to take tests so they can tell how they stand.

It's important for parents. There's a lot of discussion about parental involvement. Senator Kennedy asked a very good question -- how is parental involvement? I thought the principal gave a very good answer. But there's no better way to encourage parental involvement than to diagnose, on a child-by- child basis, where a child stands. There's no better way to get a parent's attention than for a principal to send the word, well, we're having a little trouble with your child. We want your child to succeed.

The worst thing that can happen from a parent's perspective is that there be no information. The worst thing that can happen is that the parents think everything is fine. Well, my child may have passed a test in the 3rd grade, but there's been no measurement in the 4th, 5th or 6th, so I will just assume as a parent that everything is fine, and then wake up and realize things aren't fine. To me, that's a shame when and if our systems do that to parents.

And, finally, measurement is important for management and teachers. First, I want to thank the teachers. Teaching is a noble profession. We need more teachers. And one of the jobs that Laura is going to take on -- and I certainly I hope I can, too -- is to encourage youngsters to become teachers. That means, of course, safe classrooms. It means making sure teachers can teach a curriculum that works.

There's nothing better then combining the love of a teacher with the talent and tools necessary to make sure children learn. But it also means convincing teachers of the importance and power of accountability. A good teacher welcomes accountability, because a good teacher understands that measurement for success. A good teacher will be able to see in real stark terms the fruits of his or her labor. A good teacher is somebody who says, give me a chance to succeed, and I can prove I can succeed.

There's a lot of people in our society who fear accountability. Dr. Shannon, when asked by one of the members of the congressional delegation about accountability, she said, at first people were afraid of accountability. And I can understand that. If you haven't been held accountable, and all of a sudden somebody starts holding you accountable, it's going to create a certain sense of anxiety. But I suspect she'll testify to this fact, that once the accountability measures came in place, once people got used to what it meant to be -- that accountability is not a tool to punish, but a tool to reward, and a tool necessary to correct deficiencies, it's a positive tool, it's a positive application, then people begin to accept the importance of a strong measurement system.

So we're here to applaud leadership and teachers, and we're here to applaud a school and a district that has got a vision -- a vision of high standards and strong measurement systems. A school that not only measures, but when it finds deficiency, corrects. A school that recognizes an accountability will work when you view each child as a child, not as some group -- part of a group. Accountability system says every child matters, and when we find a child deficient, we're going to correct.

Some say the accountability systems tend to restrict curriculum, that all the school will do is teach the test. This school proves that's not the case. This school focuses on basic education in reading and math. And by the way, they've got a fabulous curriculum for reading, one that works.

But this school also is a school that enriches beyond the basics of reading and math. It's a school that's got a curriculum that is focused on basic education, but it's a school also that understands the importance of the arts; it's a school that broadens the horizons of the students.

We're here to tout excellence and to thank -- to thank the good folks in this institution, inside this building who love our children and are willing to put their love into practice in a system that works.

So, Dr. Shannon, thank you very much for having us. We're so honored to be here. Again I want to thank the members of the congressional delegation that came up, as well. It's a real treat to be able to walk around the halls of a successful school, and most importantly, be able to look children in the eye and wish them all the best, urge them to go to college. But thanks for having us. It's our honor to be here. God bless. (Applause.)

END 10:40 A.M. EST