Education Reform: No Child Left Behind

Statement from President Bush      view clip   56k   broadband

President George W. Bush spoke at Boston Latin School on January 8, 2002, upon the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act. In this excerpt from his speech, the President outlines his views on education reform in front an audience of students, parents, and faculty.

I know the principles behind the bill, and I want to describe some of them to you.

First, this bill says that we will hold people accountable for results. It says, in return for receiving federal money, states must design accountability systems to measure-to determine whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. In return for federal money, the state of Massachusetts or the state of Texas or any other state in the Union must develop an accountability system to let us know whether children in grades three through eight are meeting standards. It basically says, every child can learn. And if they're not learning, we want to know early, before it is too late.

Now, I've heard them say, well, tests, we're testing too much. If you don't like to take a test, too bad. Because we need to know, we need to know whether you're learning.

I read a quote from a little girl from New York the other day that touched my heart, and I hope it touches yours. She said, I don't remember taking exams. They just kept passing me along. I ended up dropping out in the seventh grade. I basically felt no one cared. Well, she was-she's blowing the whistle on what happens in some of our schools in America.

You see, sometimes it's easy to walk into a classroom and say, certain children can't learn, therefore, let's just move them through. Let's don't test them. Let's just push them out at the end. And that's wrong in America. Every child matters, every child should be diagnosed on whether or not they can read and write and add and subtract. And if they can't, we need to correct their problems early, before it's too late. The cornerstone of reform is strong accountability measures, just like you do here in the state of Massachusetts.

Secondly, in order for reform to mean anything, there must be consequences. Something must happen if there's failure. Now, in this bill, it says schools will be given time to correct. After posting the test scores and mailing out the report cards that show mediocrity or failure, schools will still be given a chance to correct the problems. And therefore, we provide incentives and resources to make sure that failing schools have got the opportunity to meet standards.

But if they don't, the consequence is that parents must be empowered to make different choices. We must not trap children in schools that will not teach and will not change. And so, therefore, this bill says parents in failed schools can send their children to another public school, or charter school, or be able to get tutoring for their children in either the public or private sector. It is important to free families from failure in public education. And that's what this bill does.

The third principle, it says that we trust the local people to make the right decisions for the schools. It says we trust the governors and the school boards to design the path to excellence for every child. It says Washington has a role of providing money, and now Washington is demanding results. But Washington should not micromanage the process. And so, this bill provides a lot more flexibility for the local folks.

In essence, it says the people of Boston care more about the children of Boston than people in Washington, D.C. Rod Paige understands that. The reason I picked Rod to become the Secretary of Education is because he was the Superintendent of schools in the Houston Independent School District. He knows what it means to run a school district. And when we implement this bill, I can assure you, Rod is going to make sure that the spirit of "no child is left behind" is a part of the regulations.

But this bill says there-one size doesn't fit all when it comes to public schools. It fosters change by pushing power to the lowest level, and that is at the local school districts, which should make the teachers in this audience feel good.

First of all, I want to thank all the teachers who are here. Yours is a noble profession, and thank you for taking on this tough job. But a system that devolves power says we've got to trust the teachers and principals to make the right decisions in the classrooms. And that's what this bill says.

This bill also wages a battle against illiteracy. It recognizes that spending money is important, but you need to spend money effectively in order to make a difference. We've spent a lot of money in education, a lot. And a lot of it hasn't made a difference. Well, one area where we're going to make a difference from this point forward in America, is in reading, teaching every child to read.

The numbers for inner-city kids, or impoverished-kids from impoverished families, their ability to read, or the illiteracy rate-let me put it to you that way-is astounding. It is pitiful. It is not right for America that over 60 percent of the children in the fourth grade from impoverished families cannot read. If you can't read in the fourth grade, you're not going to read in the eighth grade. And if you can't read in the eighth, you're not going to read in high school. And if you can't read, you've got a tough life ahead of you.

And we need to do something about it, America, and this bill does. It triples the amount of money for early reading programs-programs based upon the science of reading, not something that sounds good or feels good, but something that works. There's money for teacher training; there's money for enhanced methodology; there's money that says we're going to stay focused until we teach every child to read by the third grade in America.

I know what's possible when it comes to educating children. You've seen it here in your own state, how the numbers have improved dramatically. It starts with an attitude that says public education is crucial; every child can learn, and we must set high standards. And that's what we've got to do in America.

Complete transcript.

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