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National Archives

Public Papers - 1990 - February

Remarks to Members of the National Governors' Association


Before I talk about the issues that we've been discussing with the Governors, I'd like to make a brief comment on yesterday's election in Nicaragua. Any friend of democracy can take heart in the fact that Violeta Chamorro won the election. And the election process, by all accounts free and fair, is a credit to the people of Nicaragua, who chose to determine their nation's future at the ballot box -- and that is a victory for democracy.

Yesterday's election moves us one step closer to the day when every nation in this hemisphere is a democracy. And I'll soon send messages -- I think they may have already gone out -- to Mrs. Chamorro, congratulating her on her victory; to President Ortega, congratulating him on the conduct of the election and on his pledge to stand by its results; to President Carter and his counterpart on that one, Dan Evans, to Mr. Soares of the OAS, to Perez de Cuellar and Elliot Richardson of the United Nations for their leading roles in observing the elections.

In the next few days I'll be speaking with Central and South American leaders. This morning I talked to President Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela about appropriate trade and economic measures that we can take to support the new government of Nicaragua. We hope now for a peaceful transition, for the institutionalization of the democratic process in Nicaragua. And there is space in a democratic Nicaragua for all political points of view. Given the clear mandate for peace and democracy, there is no reason at all for further military activity from any quarter, and we hope the cease-fire will be reestablished without delay and respected by all sides. For years the people of Nicaragua have suffered, and today the people of Nicaragua have spoken, and now is the time for Nicaragua to move forward to freedom.

And now back to our agenda at hand. I am very pleased to be with you on this occasion, an occasion which I believe will be viewed in years to come as a dramatic turning point for our country. You've come to Washington for this annual meeting with an uncommon agenda. Today we're launching a new era in education reform. Its focus -- high expectations. Its hallmark -- results. Its energy -- derived from the people of our great nation, who will insist on a world-class education for our kids. For the first time in America's history, we now have national education goals and objectives, goals that pave the way to a decade-long commitment to excellence in education for all Americans, goals that will guide us on the journey toward an American renaissance in education.

We made the commitment to develop national goals last fall there in Charlottesville, Virginia. Five months later, I'm glad to see that the spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship, so much in evidence there at Charlottesville, is still very much alive. That spirit has got to endure. And over the coming months and years, the spirit must serve as a signal to America that our commitment to these common goals remains unshakable, very strong, not for just today, not just tomorrow, but for the rest of the decade, to the year 2000, until we get the job done and get it done right.

You know, only a year or so ago, the notion of the President and the Governors agreeing on education goals was considered a bold step for America to take. Even now, there are some who say the goals we've established are too ambitious. I think they're mistaken. They've failed to appreciate the depth of our commitment to restructuring and change.

We've all been following the extraordinary events which have unfolded before our eyes in Eastern Europe over the last year, and there is a lesson in those events for all of us in this room and for all Americans. And that lesson is: When people unite behind common goals and demand the freedom to pursue their dreams, no system can stop them. And nothing will stop us.

There is nothing more important to the long-term stability and stature of America than establishing a first-class education system. Nothing is more important to a competitive America in the 21st century. Nothing is more important to improving the quality of life for our citizens. And nothing is more important than the promise inherent in these goals that all children in America can realize their fullest potential and reach out for their dreams.

I want to see these goals posted on the wall in every school so that all who walk in -- the parents, students, teachers -- know what we're aiming for, so that everyone knows we have set for ourselves the goal that every child will be ready to learn from the first day they walk into the classroom; the goal of raising the graduation rate to 90 percent by making our schools meaningful, challenging, and relevant to the needs of our students; of setting high standards of achievement among our students, seeing that they leave the transition grades of 4, 8, and 12 having mastered the important subject matter; the goal of achieving first place in math and science among industrialized nations; of every American adult being skilled and literate, equipped to be a productive worker and a responsible citizen; and finally, the goal of every school in America being safe, disciplined, and drug-free.

These goals and objectives have been developed with a great deal of energy and effort over these past 5 months and with the input of hundreds of citizens from all sectors of society. And I want to thank everyone who has participated in this process. Governor Branstad and the members of your education task force, I thank you for your commitment, your dedication, and all the hundreds of hours of hard work -- that as we acknowledge this first step, we've also got to recognize that hard work lies ahead.

Over the next few months, I know you'll be looking at strategies in your States which will move us forward to these goals, and strategies that will focus on measuring progress by results, by how well students are doing. One of the Governors encouraged me in the meeting in there to encourage the people of this country to support State and local initiatives that have to do with making the educational system better. And certainly I am prepared to do that, just as I am grateful to the Governors for their participation in setting these goals.

In the coming months, we'll work together with Congress on legislation to increase flexibility in Federal funding in return for enhanced accountability. And you, the Nation's Governors, have committed to break the bureaucratic shackles that smother innovation and stand guard over the status quo. Although the Federal Government traditionally has a limited role in education -- and we all respect and acknowledge that it is the dynamism at the State and local level that achieves excellence -- I promise you that this administration is determined to walk with you every step of the way.

When I next meet with my Cabinet, many of whom were with us there in Charlottesville, I'll ask each to work with our domestic policy adviser to devise strategies that can support your efforts and those of your communities in helping to achieve these goals. I will work with you to establish a bipartisan group to ensure that proper and constructive measurements of our educational performance are developed where they don't already exist. And this group is going to report to me each year on the progress we make.

And I'm calling on America's private sector to be a third party in this enterprise. We need to know from them what the workplace will need and expect of our citizens in the 21st century. And we need their talent and their commitment to help move this reform effort forward. And finally, I will do everything I can to provide the national leadership and energy to keep education in the forefront of America's domestic agenda.

The work ahead will not be easy. We're traveling uncharted waters. And never before have we as a nation set such goals for education. And never before have the Nation's leaders stepped forward to say we are willing to be held accountable for the results of this process. And never before have the President of the United States and the Governors joined together in a partnership and a long-term commitment on a single issue.

If we can accomplish just one thing today -- and it may be the simplest and yet most valuable of all -- it is to send a message to parents, teachers, community leaders, and every other American: These goals are not the Governors' goals. They're not the President's goals. They are the Nation's goals. And we are rejecting the status quo, raising our sights, investing our faith in the American people. And so, today I hope the Governors and the Cabinet will join me in extending a challenge to all Americans to adopt these goals as their own and to take aim now at the year 2000 and to enlist every ounce of American innovation, energy, resolve in the effort to achieve these education goals and prepare this nation for the challenges of a new century.

Thank you all very, very much for your superb cooperation.

Note: The President spoke at 11:59 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. Prior to his remarks, the President met with members of the association in the Blue Room.

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