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 Home > News & Policies > May 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 6, 2002

President Highlights Next Step of Education Reform
Vandenberg Elementary School
Southfield, Michigan

     Fact sheet Policy in Focus: Next Step in Education Reform

President's Remarks

11:44 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much for that warm welcome. I'm delighted to be here. Secretary Paige said that he's moving around the country to 25 different cities and school districts to make sure that the No Child Left Behind initiative is put in place and implemented, and I just wanted to check up on him a little bit. (Laughter.) And I'm glad I'm doing so here in Michigan.

I picked Rod to be the Secretary of Education, one, I was comfortable with him as a person. We're both Texans; I saw him in action in Texas, I know how deeply he cares for the children all across our country. But I also wanted somebody that actually knew how to get things done. In Washington, we find all kinds of great theorists, people who talk about theory and philosophy. And I was interested in somebody who actually had run a school district, who knows what it means to meet a budget, who knows how to deal with teachers, who insists upon high standards for every child. And Rod did that, and he's a great Secretary of Education. I'm so glad that he's here. (Laughter.) President George W. Bush listens to students read about American values during a visit to Vandenberg Elementary School in Southfield, Mich., Monday, May 6. White House photo by Tina Hager.

I want to thank Sharalene, as well. You know, one of the things you find out when you pay close attention to public education and you try to figure out what works, the good schools are those who have got good principals. Good schools are -- (applause.) So I want to thank Sharalene for her hospitality. I know it's not easy to welcome the President -- (laughter) -- he's got kind of a small entourage. (Laughter.) Of 25 vehicles. (Laughter.) But you all and your staff have done a great job. And I want to thank all who are responsible for helping put this event on for your hospitality.

I want to thank your teachers, as well. I'm real proud to be in the midst of teachers who are doing a great job. (Applause.)

I made a wise choice when I asked a public school teacher to marry me. (Laughter.) A lot of people are wondering how wise a choice she made when she said yes. (Laughter.) But I'm sorry she's not here with me today. She cares deeply about the teaching profession, and one of here responsibilities that she's assumed is to help recruit young and old alike to become teachers in classrooms.

I want to thank Cecil Rice, who's the Superintendent of Southfield Public Schools. You and big Rod speak the same language. (Applause.) Good to have you here. I want to thank Congressman Joe Knollenberg -- this is his district -- thank you for being here, Congressman. (Applause.) I want to thank my friend, the Governor of Michigan, John Engler, for being here, as well. Thank you, Governor. (Applause.) We've got Tom Watkins, who's the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Michigan. Tom, thanks for coming. (Applause.) We've got the Mayor -- thank you, Madam Mayor, for being here. Appreciate you coming. (Applause.)

We've got a young lady named Asya Obad here. I want to tell you about Asya. Please stand up, Asya. (Applause.) One of the things I try to do as I travel around the country is to remind people that if you live in America, you have a responsibility to your country and the community in which you live. That out of this evil that has been done to us I believe can come some incredible good, and part of that good is neighbor caring for neighbor, and people listening to the universal admonition to love a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself.

And this young lady, who is a University of Michigan student, has done just that. She's a one-time AmeriCorps volunteer? Two-time AmeriCorps volunteer. She works with a program called ACCESS -- Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services -- to help new students, immigrant students to learn to read and write. In other words, she's a child who is getting her own education, and at the same time, working hard to make sure our community is strong.

You see, America changes one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time. And while one person can't do everything, one person can make a significant difference in people's lives.

I want to thank you for being here, and I want to thank you for the example you set for people your age, and for older people, too. (Applause.)

I want to thank the parents who are involved in their children's education. I got to tell you, I was impressed -- it just reminded me how great America is when I came -- went through the classrooms here. A young girl just came from Iraq, reads -- talks about core democratic values and why they're important. I mean, this is a great country and it's a great -- public schools, it's so important that we get it right. In order for the future of this country to be bright and hopeful, we've got to make sure every child gets educated, no matter where they're from, or their background.

You know, this little girl came, and she spoke -- knew the alphabet, but that was it. And she was able, in front of the President of the United States, and the press corps, to read about values that matter. But it's the same values that matter to my little girls. I mean, it's the greatness of our country to share values, and to be diverse, and to welcome people from all backgrounds into America.

And one of the unifying things about our country is the education system. It's an education system that can be incredibly hopeful. And it's one where, as a result of schools making right decisions, people from all backgrounds do get educated.

The reason I'm here is because this is a successful school. It's a successful school because teachers care and work hard. (Applause.) It's successful school because there is a mind-set that says, every child can learn. (Applause.) It is a school that obviously welcomes people from all backgrounds, but it is also a school that doesn't kind of say, well, certain kids are going to be too hard to educate, let's just kind of move them somewhere else, kind of put them on the side car to nowhere -- which happens.

This is a school that welcomes the young child from Iraq, puts her in a classroom, provides a little special nudge when it comes to an interpreter, but gets her moving.

This is a school that is not afraid to measure; a school that says, we want to know. You see, there are a lot of people in America who reject the notion of accountability in public education. I'm not one. See, I want to know. I want to know whether a child is learning to read and write, or add and subtract, and I want to know early. It seems like to me that if we are concerned about every child, and we have high standards that believes every child can learn, that in order to verify that, we ought to measure, and not be afraid of accountability. This school is not afraid of accountability, and as a result, is excelling. (Applause.)

There are people who are afraid of accountability systems, and, therefore, I become suspicious. Because if you don't want to measure, it kind of makes me worry that maybe your a little -- you're not confident about either your teacher quality or your curriculum. If you're afraid to be held accountable, something must be going wrong. That's how I view it.

What I don't like is a system that quits on kids. And neither should you. This school doesn't quit on kids, and that's why it's heralded for its excellence. You see, there can be a mind-set in American schools that say, well, there are certain kids that can't learn and, therefore, let's just move them through. The easiest thing to do is to shuffle them through. And one way to make sure that happens is to have no accountability. One way to make sure that it's -- you take the easy path, which is, give it your best shot and hope you get it right -- is not to measure.

And that's happened for too long in America. I'm going to be honest about it. When you've got so many 4th-graders who can't read at grade level, something has gone wrong. And by the way, if they can't read at grade level at 4th grade, you're not going to be reading at grade level at 8th grade, and you're not going to be reading grade level at high school. And all of a sudden, the great American hopes and dreams may not be extended in every neighborhood.

And so one of the reasons I'm so insistent upon accountability, and Sharalene is, as well, and Rod is, is because we need to know whether or not children are able to read early, and if they're not, use the accountability system as a way to correct problems. Sharalene was telling me that when this school begins to get a sense that a child is beginning to fall behind, the accountability system steps up, it doesn't decrease. There is a constant attention being paid to a child, and whether or not that child is getting the right instruction.

And I think that's not only healthy, I think it's great for the children. If the goal for America is "no child left behind," let's make sure we view each child as an individual; test him or her as to whether or not she can read, write, add or subtract, and correct his or her problems early, before it's too late. And you mark my word, what's going to happen: high standards, accountability, and local control of schools will mean that the public school system is going to be the greatest it can possibly be. (Applause.)

We have responsibilities throughout our society. We have responsibilities. The federal government has responsibilities. Generally, that responsibility is to write a healthy check, and we did so in the 2002 budget -- $22 billion for secondary and elementary schools. It's an increase of 25 percent. We've increased money by 35 percent for teacher recruitment, teacher retention, teacher pay.

But my attitude is, if you spend something, you ought to get results for it. We ought to know. And that's why we insist -- and this is what Rod is doing by traveling around the country, saying, in return for federal help, you've got to measure. The state of Michigan, the state of Texas, the state of anywhere else has got to develop an accountability system that measures grades 3 through 8, to show not only the taxpayers, but mothers and dads, whether or not expectations are being met.

Local districts have a responsibility. Local districts have a responsibility to support the teachers. They have a responsibility to develop the accountability systems. They have a responsibility to reject curriculum that do not work. They have a responsibility to challenge the status quo. They have a responsibility to provide an education system that is not only good for teachers and principals, but an education system in which parents are involved.

Parents have a responsibility in the public education system of America. You have a responsibility to make sure your child comes to school with the understanding that they're going to be polite when they get in the classroom; with the understanding that they'll treat their teacher with respect; with the understanding there are certain manners that are important. If you expect your child to be well-educated, you have the responsibility of making sure your child gets educated, starting at home, with some basic fundamentals. (Applause.)

One of the things I like to try to remind parents, that it would be helpful if you insisted that your child read more than they watch TV. (Applause.) As a veteran of teenage years, that's easier said than done, I understand that. (Laughter.) But it's -- all of us must assume responsibilities if we expect the best for every single child. The federal government has got responsibilities; the state government has got responsibilities; the local districts have responsibilities; mothers and dads have responsibilities; the business community has responsibilities. The Michigan business community has got responsibilities to be involved with the public education system in Michigan.

I mean, after all, we're educating potential heads of businesses and employees. And business Michigan must support education, must support the accountability systems, must support the infrastructure necessary to make sure that the school systems in Michigan work.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with executives from around the country. I'm going to remind them that they have a responsibility, as good corporate citizens, not only to make sure that we understand all their assets and liabilities on their balance sheets, that when it comes time to treating their shareholders and employees with integrity, they must do so, that we expect there to be honesty in reporting, but business communities have the responsibility, as well, to support public education in America. (Applause.)

So I believe firmly we're on the right track. First of all, we herald the importance of public education in America. Being on the right track means you understand the importance of public schools in our country. Anybody who doubts the importance of public education need to come to this school and go see the classrooms that I saw. It's diversity -- (applause.) I believe one of the strengths of America is our diversity. I know one of the strengths is the common values that we all share. And I saw that living example in the classrooms I visited.

Secondly, we have the right mind-set in America, and that says, every child can learn. You've got to start thinking that. If you don't believe every child can learn, then the ones you don't believe will learn won't learn. Every child can learn. Notice I didn't say every group can learn. I said, every single child can learn. It's a belief that we've got to focus our attentions on each child.

It says that we trust the local people. Listen, we don't want Washington, D.C. managing public education. (Applause.) Trust me. One size isn't going to fit all. It's just not. I know that some will say that's a trite slogan. It's true. It's true. You've got different issues here in Michigan than we have in Texas. And there's different issues here than they have in California. And that's why we want to have flexibility at the local level. We've got to trust teachers and principals to design what works. There needs to be flexibility.

But we must be wise enough to measure. See, we must incorporate accountability, and then be quick enough to change when we find failure. And mark my words what's going to happen: we're going to start seeing great progress. This school is living example of great progress. Kind of at the bottom of the measurement standards, if I'm not mistaken, five years ago, and now you're soaring off the chart. It shows what's possible. We want every school soaring off the chart.

We don't want schools languishing in mediocrity and excuse-making. We want the best for every child. That's what America's future is all about. It's about making sure that every single child gets educated. I love to ask the question when I go into a classroom, are you going to college? It makes me feel so great to see every hand pop up -- every hand. And that starts with making sure that every child gets a good education. And you're doing so at this school.

And I'm proud you've invited me to come. And on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you for doing your job, and doing it with excellence. (Applause.)

God bless. (Applause.)

END 12:03 P.M. EDT