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Public Papers - 1991 - September

Remarks to the Department of Education's 1990 - 1991 Blue Ribbon Schools


Thank you all very, very much. Thank you ever so much, Lamar Alexander. What a job our Secretary is doing. First class. I kind of like the music beyond the wall over there -- [laughter] -- but I don't think they could hold a candle to the Marine Band. I want to thank them very much for being here.

And I know that all of you were perhaps as disappointed as Barbara and I were by the weather today. You see, we'd planned on hosting all 800 of you on the White House lawn, and here I am, the one who ended up making the field trip, along with Bar. [Laughter]

But let me recognize, first off, the many corporate contributors to the Blue Ribbon Program who are here today. And of course, I'm very pleased, again, to introduce or to acknowledge or to thank our first-rate Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, who got us over here. And believe me, he is a real taskmaster. He is seeing to it that both Barbara and I mind our P's and Q's and stay actively involved in this education program we believe so strongly about.

Barbara and I are delighted to recognize the schools that represent this Nation's Blue Ribbon best. And we've bestowed blue ribbons now for 9 years. Some of your schools are no strangers to the winner's circle. And today, we host a record 32 two-time winners. We meet at a moment when this Nation has embarked on what really is a crusade for real reform, revolutionary reform in our schools. A crusade we call America 2000, a revolution that will ready us to enter the new world now on our horizon.

As you know, right now the news for American education is anything but good. Part of the necessary business of reform is to shine a light into the dark corners of the system, focus on the schools that aren't making the grade, shake people out of their complacency, and show them we need change.

But there's another part, another part of the business of building better schools across America: shining the spotlight on the schools that work and the people that make them work, the success stories like each one of the 222 schools here today.

Last December, with the world's attention riveted on Desert Shield, I laid out five principles to guide our efforts to restructure and revitalize our schools. With the state of our schools back in the national spotlight, those principles bear repeating today.

First, we've got to raise expectations, hold our schools and students to a higher level of achievement. Second, we must decentralize the authority, clear some room for our teachers and principals to do what they do best, make learning come alive. And third, we need responsible schools, customer-driven, and that means school choice.

If we want to create a climate for change, let parents decide which school, public or private, is best for the kids. And fourth, we must make certain our schools are market-oriented. By that I mean competition. Competition works in the business world; it can spur excellence in our schools. And fifth and finally, we must make sure that our schools are performance-based. We need to measure our schools by real results, by the students they produce rather than the resources that we pour in. Quite simply, then, measure by what works.

Two years ago, I met with the Governors of your State at the Education Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia. There in the shadow of Mr. Jefferson's university we set in motion the process that identified six ambitious national education goals to prepare our children for the challenges of a new century, the challenges that that century is destined to bring.

We came away from Charlottesville with a solid consensus that what matters most is results. Now, a few days from now the Governors and members of our administration, who together constitute the National Education Goals Panel, will tell us just how far America needs to go to reach our goals for the year 2000. We already know there is bad news. And this new national report card isn't going to be one that we want to post on our refrigerators. The point is, it's a place to start, though. Finding out where we stand is the first step towards moving forward.

For a long time, too long really, we spent our time and energy talking about reform rather than taking action. And that is changing now. And again, I salute our Secretary of Education. We're charting a new course for this Nation's schools, and in that effort, your schools are the pioneers, the ones blazing a trail the rest will follow someday. The levels of achievement we're looking for in the year 2000 are the goals you're shooting for today.

And we here in Washington want to do what we can. Clearly, we can lend a hand. But the real revolution takes place in the communities that you call home. And when you come from as far away as Kalaheo High in Hawaii, Alaska's -- here are a couple of people who have come from as far away as Kalaheo High in Hawaii back there -- Alaska's East Anchorage High School or Hahn American High School on Hahn Air Force Base in Germany or as near to this place as DC's own Benjamin Banneker and Hine Junior High, you see at a glance that each school travels its own path to excellence.

One sad note for any of the kids here who made this short trip from Banneker and Hine, the problem is that right after lunch you'll have to be back in class. [Laughter]

Some schools here today mirror the communities they come from. Their successes reflect years of love and interest and just plain hard work from communities that care. Some of the schools represented here today triumphed against all odds in spite of tough, cruel surroundings. For their students, these schools are islands of calm in the midst of chaos. And that drives home today's lesson: There's no blueprint for the one school that works for everyone. But there is a blue ribbon for every school that works best.

Take Genesis, an alternative school for kids with special needs out in Kansas City, Missouri. Genesis began as a Vista program back in the mid-seventies. And today the vast majority of its funds come from the private sector, from national organizations like the United Way, down to local businesses.

Genesis serves the kids who have fallen through the cracks, the dropouts, the teen mothers, children coping with broken homes and shattered hopes. And it turns around two-thirds of the troubled kids that come through its doors, prepares them to go back to their old schools or go on to get a GED. For these students, Genesis is literally a new beginning, a second chance that gives them their best shot at a promising future.

The schools we honor today come in all shapes and sizes, serve students of all races and creeds and colors. From America's major cities to our tiniest town, each one of you represents the tip of the iceberg, the collective accomplishment of teachers and students, principals, parents, and the communities you come from.

Consider one of the smallest schools here today, Craftsbury Academy, a 180-student public school out in the Vermont farm country, in a town called Craftsbury Common. Times are tough out there. But economic difficulties haven't stopped that community from giving its children every possible opportunity to learn.

I think it says something about Craftsbury that when the teachers voted to send someone to today's ceremony, they sent a parent, Gary Houston, a past graduate of Craftsbury whose four kids go there now. So please accept our thanks for all the mothers and fathers who understand what powerful teachers parents can be.

So today, your shining example must spark a revolution in American education, spur reform that will literally re-invent the American schools. Each of your schools is well on the way to where all of us must be. We'll reach our goals by challenging the best minds and big thinkers out there to help us create a new generation of American schools and have these schools up and running in every congressional district across America by the year 1996. By challenging every city and town to join the crusade -- become an America 2000 community. And I'm proud to tell you that so far, nine States and one territory are already part of the great and growing America 2000 community. And I assure you there is room for every State, city, and town across this country.

We really have to start now, improve those schools that lag behind, and make our best schools better still. We won't write anyone off. We won't waste time wringing hands about the fact that the year 2000 is just a little more than 8 years away. Look at it from a kid's point of view, a child's point of view: Eight years is a lifetime of learning. So, let's spend the time between now and the year 2000 opening a new world of possibility for our children.

And that's the spirit that will get us to our goals for the year 2000. One community at a time, one school at a time, one student at a time, for the sake of our future we will win this American revolution.

And let me just say that if I ever let up, and if I ever don't show the proper leadership or the proper support for America 2000, I get it both ways. I get it coming on me from the Secretary of Education who says, ``You are committed, now stay that way.'' And you can bet your neck I get it from the person sitting on my right who's dedicated a lot of her life to helping illiteracy.

So, congratulations to all of you. And when you get home with your blue ribbons, please share my thanks with everybody, it's not just you all, but with everybody who makes your schools so successful.

Thank you and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:07 p.m. at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. In his remarks he referred to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Gary Houston, a graduate of Craftsbury Academy in Vermont.

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