The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 19, 2007

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Teach for America Metro D.C. Luncheon
Willard Intercontinental
Washington, D.C.


12:39 P.M. EDT

MS. KOPP: It is now my pleasure to present, inside this beautifully wrapped box that I won't unwrap, a first edition of one of your very favorite books, on behalf of everyone. Thank you. (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very, very much, Catherine. Thanks a lot. Thank you so much. And just in case you're wondering, it's My Antonia, by Willa Cather, one of my favorite books. Thank you very much, Catherine.

Well, I'm so thrilled to be here. Everyone, please be seated. So thrilled to be here for Teach for America, one of my favorite great ideas. I think it's one of the greatest ideas ever. Is the Mayor here? I thought the Mayor was going to be here, but I guess he's not. But Michelle Rhee, I also want to say publicly, this is the first chance I've been able to see Michelle since she's become the Chancellor of the District of Columbia schools. And welcome. I know you'll do a terrific job. And Michelle and I worked together a little bit on the new teacher project before, where she was before, and I was really thrilled when I found out she was going to be the new Chancellor.

Also, of course, Wendy Kopp, the President and founder of Teach for America. Everyone here knows Wendy. You might know that Wendy -- that other countries around the world have looked at Teach for America and see it as a model for their own countries, and that now, a few of those countries are going to start their own programs. And just think what Wendy has done, not just in our country now, but around the world. Congratulations, Wendy.

Don Graham, thank you very much. Thank you for being a part of this. Raymond Simon, the new Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education is here with us. Thank you for joining us. Members of Congress -- I see Congressman Ralph Regula, and I probably should have just said members of Congress, because I don't know if anyone else is here. But thank you so much for joining us. I know about your deep love of education, and I appreciate that very much.

Education officials, philanthropists -- I see Alma Powell here, America's Promise -- thank you so much, Alma, for joining us today and for everything that you do for America's young people.

Community leaders, distinguished guests, thank you for coming to honor Teach for America in Washington, D.C. Most of all, thank you to the Teach for America corps members who have joined us. I had a picture with them. They're from all over the United States, and they're here in Washington to devote themselves to students in the Washington, D.C., schools.

I was once a young teacher myself, and I can still remember my very first day in the classroom. I had everything ready: The pencils were sharpened, the chairs were perfectly positioned -- and then the children walked in. Well, some walked in, some ran, and some were led in by their parents.

I'd earned a teaching degree, but no textbook could prepare me for the 20 sets of eyes staring at me with complete expectations. At 9:00 a.m., we started to work. We worked through the alphabet and numbers. We colored. We put together puzzles. We read a few books -- and then we read a few more books. By 9:15 a.m., I'd gone through my entire day's lesson plans. (Laughter.)

Those days of teaching at inner-city elementary schools in Houston and Dallas were some of my most challenging, but they were also incredibly rewarding. I know how satisfying it is to be a teacher, and I understand the excitement that motivates young people to Teach for America.

In cities across the United States, Teach for America corps members have already reached two-and-a-half million children in our country's most underserved schools. Corps members bring to their classrooms extraordinary skill, compassion, energy and idealism. And these are important qualities in any workplace, but they're especially important in schools, where teachers aren't just job-holders, but they're role models, mentors and friends.

TFA teachers are some of America's most sought-after college graduates. Applicants have an average GPA of 3.5, and an average SAT score of 1320. Ninety-five percent of Teach for America teachers have held leadership positions on their campuses. They go through a rigorous interview process to assess their organizational skills and perseverance.

Teach for America's recruits are so impressive, major corporations now partner with TFA -- offering job deferrals, relocation bonuses and summer internships to seniors accepted by both Teach for America and major corporations. Corps members still turn down business jobs that pay twice as much as teaching -- because they're dedicated to serving children.

I've seen the exceptional character of TFA corps members across our country. I've visited Teach for America classrooms in New York, Newark, Atlanta, Baltimore and San Francisco. I've met with TFA recruits in Los Angeles and Phoenix and Greenville, Mississippi. Last April, I heard the incredible story of corps members who lost everything during Hurricane Katrina -- but who've returned to New Orleans to help rebuild the Crescent City's schools. From coast to coast, Teach for America is transforming urban education -- one district, one classroom, one student at a time.

One city especially in need of Teach for America teachers is Washington, D.C. Washington taxpayers invest about a billion dollars a year in D.C. public schools -- but last year, only 22 percent of those schools made acceptable progress under the District's standards. Only a third of children in Washington's secondary schools are proficient in math and reading. Test scores show a huge achievement gap: Nearly 85 percent of white D.C. elementary-schoolers read at grade level, compared with just 34 percent of their African-American peers.

Improving Washington's schools is a challenge, but it's a challenge Teach for America is proud to try to help meet. Two years ago, there were 90 TFA corps members working in D.C.'s public schools. Today, there are 250. Within three years, TFA aims to have 400 teachers in Washington's classrooms. As they reach nearly 32,000 students, these corps members will also prepare to lead D.C.'s public-school reform in the years ahead.

Teach for America's increased commitment has been made possible by the generosity of Washington's private sector. Local business leaders understand that when they invest in children's education, the corporate community benefits. Local companies can attract talented people if they can offer prospective employees good opportunities for their families -- which requires good schools for their children. Ninety percent of the jobs in the fastest-growing industries require post-secondary education. By improving local schools, Washington's companies are prepared to make sure that their future employees are prepared for 21st-century jobs.

The business community also shares the responsibility that all of us have to help America's young people. Washington has the nation's highest concentration of advanced degrees, and attracts some of the world's brightest people with dreams of changing the world for the better. In a city that stands for equal justice and civil rights, children must have the most important civil right, and that's an equal chance for a good education.

Washington's private sector can give young people their chance for a good education by supporting organizations like Teach for America. Last year, 85 percent of Teach for America teachers advanced their students by one or more grade levels. Ninety-four percent of principals in the Washington area reported that TFA corps members make a positive difference in their school environment. Many TFA teachers are promoted to school leadership roles. Even before TFA alumna Michelle Rhee became the school's Chancellor, 20 TFA alumni served as principals in D.C. schools.

Scores of TFA alumni run education-related non-profits, work in local and national government, and continue to teach, after their two-year commitment, in District classrooms. More than 750 alumni live and work in the Washington area -- two thirds of them in education. One TFA alum, Sekou Biddle, was just elected to the school board. I met another D.C. Teach for America corps member, Jason Kamras, at the White House, where he became the first District of Columbia educator to be honored as the National Teacher of the Year.

When one TFA teacher, Lisa Guido, joined Teach for America, she was alarmed to discover that she'd been assigned to teach 10th-grade at Anacostia's Ballou High School. Ballou was known for gang violence, fights, and a recent school shooting. Lisa was reassured, though, when she learned that Ballou's principal is a Teach for America alumna. She was comforted by the fact that she'd be teaching alongside 13 other Teach for America corps members.

Most of all, Lisa was inspired by her kids, and she was determined to earn their respect. She attended band concerts, and went to school dances. She watched Friday night football games, so she could praise her students for a winning touchdown on Monday morning. Lisa helped her teen moms find day care for their children. In a system where 65 percent is usually a passing grade, Lisa set their threshold at 80 percent. "At first, the kids definitely thought I was crazy," Lisa recalls. "But by the end of the year, if they got below 80 percent, they were upset."

Of course, they had a powerful incentive: Lisa's famous 80-percent cupcakes. (Laughter.) Lisa remembers how she once promised her a class a party if they raised their class average above 80 percent on the D.C. U.S. History exam. She was shocked when the class trouble-maker told her, "If the class doesn't reach 80 percent, I want to take my quiz again." Lisa says, "If the kids believe in themselves, eventually they raise the bar."

At Ballou, Lisa has been constantly impressed by how far her students push themselves. Last year, Lisa taught a first-period class -- and her students always arrived after the bell. She told them that their future employers wouldn't care about a late bus, or trouble finding a sitter, and that no excuse was a substitute for being on time. Eventually, her students prized punctuality -- so much that one morning, after Lisa had let the school know she'd be home with the flu, she was surprised by her ringing phone. It was her students. "We're here on time," they called to say. "Where are you?" (Laughter.)

At Ballou, and across Washington, people are noticing -- oh, by the way, Lisa is right here. Thank you, Lisa. (Applause.)

At Ballou, and across Washington, people are noticing that Teach for America teachers make a difference. Especially D.C. students are noticing. As one Ballou 10th-grader told Chancellor Rhee this summer, "I wish all my teachers could be from Teach for America."

I hope all of you will talk with the corps members who are at your tables, learn more about this amazing program. I'm sure each one of them have stories to tell you, just like Lisa's.

Thanks to each of you for your commitment to D.C.'s young people, and for your work to improve Washington's public schools. And thank you very much for supporting Teach for America. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

END 12:52 P.M. EDT

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