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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks to Members of the National PTA Legislative Conference

1990-03-05

The President. Under Secretary Sanders and Roger Porter, distinguished guests -- and Ann, especially to you and the leaders of the PTA -- welcome to the East Room of the White House. Barbara and I are delighted that you're here. It's been said that education is what remains when we've forgotten all we've been taught. By this reckoning, I guess I've become quite a scholar over the years. [Laughter]

But the truth is, we may have forgotten our algebra lessons, but we haven't forgotten logic. We may have forgotten a history lesson from high school, but we haven't forgotten the lessons of history. So, our first concern is for those Americans who never get the chance to learn. No one feels this concern more than you, you who serve on the school boards and work with the PTA all across this country. Since the founding of the PTA in this very city 92 years ago, later merged with the heroic National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, the men and women of the PTA have struggled to make this nation fully educated. And you've for years been a strong voice in support of standards of higher achievement.

Well, I'm here today to tell you that your Governors and your President have listened and that the vision of the PTA is now the vision of America. As you know, I met with the Governors last fall at an education summit, the first of its kind. And at Charlottesville, we forged a national compact on education reform. We resolved to put progress ahead of partisanship, the future before the moment, and our children before ourselves. And I am pleased to tell you that in our meeting last week, judging from the enthusiasm of the Governors and education leaders like Ann Lynch, the spirit of Charlottesville is growing ever stronger. Our resolve is strong because we are agreed: The time for rhetoric is past; the time to seek results, at hand.

We did not meet for yet another conference, more speeches, more white papers. No. We met to establish the first national education goals in American history. Our nation is committed, as we have never been before, to a radical restructuring of our schools. And we are committed to this national effort because nothing less than our national future is at stake. And as I speak just a week and a half after the Governors' meeting, I am pleased to announce that a United States delegation headed by former Governor Tom Kean is on its way to a World Conference on Education for All way over in Thailand. And I have charged them to share America's commitment to and enthusiasm for education reform. Both Barbara and I look forward to hearing from these delegates when they return. By the way, two of the delegates, Tom Kean and Jim Duffy from Project Literacy U.S., have something in common with Ann Lynch -- they're all members of my Education Policy Advisory Committee. And Ann, I do want to thank you for your hard work with this group. We have a good one; this is a working group.

And so, as the nations of the world gather this week to discuss goals, we're getting to work right here at home to ensure a bright future for our children and our country. We've got to meet six new goals by the end of the century.

First: American children must be ready to learn from the first day of school. And of course, preparing children for school is a historic responsibility of parents. But where parents are absent or where they're unable to help, we need to provide the right kind of assistance to help children, especially in those early years. And that's why I proposed a record funding for Head Start.

Second: High school graduation rates have improved, but I think we'd all agree they're still unacceptably low. And so, we will raise the graduation rate to at least 90 percent by making our schools meaningful, challenging, and relevant to the needs of the students.

Third goal: We will expect that every child can learn and raise our expectations of what they can accomplish. When our children leave the transition grades of 4, 8, and 12, it is not too much to expect that they will read at the 4th-grade level, and the 8th-grade level, and then the 12th-grade level. And it's not too much to expect that they will have the appropriate mastery of English, math, science, geography, and history.

Fourth: When it comes to math and science, America will no longer settle for the bottom of the list, or even third or second place among the industrialized nations. When it comes to math and science achievement, we will accept only one prime number: number one in the world.

Fifth: Every American adult must be literate and have the skills needed to compete in a global economy. This country has such a marvelous system of junior and vocational colleges ready to teach new skills -- from learning Spanish to car mechanics to computer literacy. And there's no reason that education should end with the conferral of a diploma. And of course, there are many adult Americans who have yet to master the very basics. Barbara has been a leader of the campaign for literacy for 8 years now. And through her, I have learned that a simple lack of letters is a silent sorrow, but it need not be a lifelong tragedy.

Our sixth and final goal is the most basic of all: to free every school in America from drugs and violence. It is no coincidence that the words civility and civilization come from the same Latin root. You're looking at one who studied Latin for 4 years -- don't remember a thing -- [laughter] -- except that it is no coincidence that the words civil and civilization come from the same Latin root. For if rudimentary civility is lost in our schools, then our civilization itself really is in danger.

Every time I meet with teachers and administrators, I am told the same thing: Every State, every district, every school is unique. So, to make our goals work, we will need to relax the Federal regulations that try to force every State, district, and school into exactly the same mold. The Governors impressed on me the need for flexibility.

Last year I met with many teachers to prepare for the education summit. And I was told no two students are exactly alike, and no two schools face exactly the same challenge. And so, while we work to develop appropriate measures and to monitor progress, you must work school by school, class by class, child by child. To raise scores is important, but no statistic can match the thrill of watching the brightening face of a learning child. And yet, when too many strings are attached to Federal funding and by the States, educators and students alike are treated like puppets. And so, I promise to continue to work with the Governors and Congress to cut you loose from excessive Federal regulation.

In return for greater flexibility, we will seek, of course, accountability. Accountability begins when we quit kidding ourselves. We must stop measuring our efforts by what goes into our schools and start measuring our efforts by what comes out of them. So, we will no longer grade ourselves by dollars spent, classrooms filled, chairs occupied: no more A's for effort. We must have the courage to be graded on our results, just like our children. In a very real sense, we will be graded along with our children.

Again, these are not just my goals or the Bush administration goals, nor are they the handiwork of the Governors alone. These are the national goals, and it will take an act of national will to make them stick. So, let's start inside every school by posting these goals so that all who walk in -- parents, students, the teachers -- know where we're going. And to make these goals work, I'm asking you to rethink school procedures and course requirements -- even that challenge, the academic schedule itself. We've inherited hallowed academic traditions from the agrarian age, traditions of discipline that should be strengthened. But when hallowed tradition proves to be hollow convention, then we must not hesitate to shatter tradition.

Parents, perhaps, have the greatest task ahead of them. True, Head Start can work wonders. But too many parents have fallen into the habit of thinking of education as a service we can hand over to the school boards, to you leaders, much in the same way we expect our cities to provide electricity or water or some other service. Education is not a utility. Education is a national mission. It really must include the parents. And that's why we need the leadership of this marvelous organization, the PTA. After all, a school program can't kiss away the pain from an injured knee. And a school program won't calm the fears of a child about to get a first shot. And a school program alone can't instill a lifelong love of learning. But parents can spark the flame of curiosity by reading to their children every night. And you can best reach all the parents of America. You can recruit them as educators not just for their preschool children but to help their children do their homework all the way through school.

The PTA has more than 6.6 million members in 27,000 local units in every State, here in the District of Columbia, and in Defense Department schools abroad. And there is no organization in America that can reach as many schools and as many parents as you can -- not State governments and really not even the Federal Government. Success in education starts with you, from every parent and every teacher who will settle for nothing less than a world-class education for our kids.

And so, what I wanted to do was to come over here today to this lovely East Room -- Barbara at my side, because I think we would all agree she's doing a great job out there in this literacy -- what we both wanted to do was to come over here and say that for all that you do, and for all that you will do, you have our most sincere thanks. God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

Ms. Lynch. You only need to stand for one President, not for me. [Laughter] Mr. President, we wanted to take this occasion because it's not often that groups such as ours gets to come to this East Room, to correct a wrong that we think has caused some difficulty in your family.

Several years ago, Mrs. Bush received a national honorary membership from the National PTA. [Laughter] And since we believe strongly that it takes two to really provide good parenting when there are two in the family, we felt to put you on an even keel and to express our appreciation for being truly the education President and for sharing the time and energy and enthusiasm in a world that has so many other problems and excitement for you -- that you have taken this time for education -- we would like to make you a member, an honorary member of the National PTA.

The President. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:33 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Under Secretary of Education Ted Sanders; Roger Porter, Assistant to the President for Economic and Domestic Policy; and Ann Lynch, president of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA).

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