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Public Papers - 1991 - November

Remarks to the Ohio Education Community


Thank you, Governor, for that warm Ohio welcome. And I'm just delighted to be here with George Voinovich, a friend of mine for many, many years. Because, you see, he is leading Ohio on a drive for better schools, clearly for a better future.

We've just heard from Lamar Alexander, who is working on an historic mission, nationally, to change American education, to help our country become all that it should be. And I'm delighted to be working with Secretary Alexander every single day there in Washington.

I want to salute Superintendent Middleton and thank him for his cordial reception. The band: You guys did pretty well on that music in there. It's not easy. And thank you very, very much for being with us here today. Well done.

I'm pleased that Lieutenant Governor Mike DeWine is with us; and of course, a pleasure to be with my old friend, Ted Sanders. As Lamar or George both acknowledged, he worked for our administration as Deputy Secretary of the Education Department until Ohio had the good fortune to hire him as State superintendent. And he helped back in Washington develop the America 2000 strategy to involve parents, educators, and communities in reinventing, literally reinventing, American education.

And I also want to greet the members of the Committee of 100 who I had a chance to say hello to a little earlier, and also the Governor's Education Management Council. They represent, you see, the community spirit for excellence that is the heart of America 2000.

And also it's great to be with so many young Americans, high school students from Fort Hayes where I've just visited, a couple of prejudiced ones right here, cheering for themselves. That's the way it ought to be. Others from the kindergarten through 12th grade, from every kind of institution, public schools, Christian schools, parochial, private schools. And I want to greet the many students and teachers and parents throughout Ohio who are viewing us on television.

You young people are part of something special. It doesn't happen with every generation. I've lived a long time, and I'm a grandfather with a lot of grandchildren in school. In all my life, there has never before been a movement like America 2000 to change our schools. We're working for change in education because the world is changing. Our schools -- you think back to your history -- our schools were designed for another era. Now they must catch up with the times. And we want you to have good jobs and a good life when you become adults.

To do this, our schools need to keep up with all of the exciting improvements around the world. Making your schools better will be a family affair. When I was your age, my mom and dad would look in and make sure I did the best with my homework. And they'd visit my school and my teachers and the principal to show how much they cared.

With America 2000, we want to get the parents more involved in all of our schools. And that's one reason, if I might say with some pride, that Barbara, my wife, spends so much of her time encouraging parents to read to their kids. Read to a child at home and watch that child get the most out of school. We want our young people to grow up with all the love and encouragement for excellence that your parents received from their parents.

One young man here is Matthew Shepard, a 10th-grader at Tiffin Columbian High School. He finished first in the Ohio Citizen Bee. The entry form for the competition asked, ``If you could accomplish one thing in your life, what would it be?'' Matthew's answer was, ``Become President of the United States.'' I'd like to see Matthew after class. [Laughter] Don't want him peaking too early out there. [Laughter]

But today is a landmark on our drive for better education. Only 7 months ago, we launched America 2000. And now with Ohio's commitment, 25 States have enlisted in the revolution to reinvent American education by the dawn of the new century.

The Governors of all 50 States, Democrats and Republicans, adopted 6 goals for the year 2000. George clicked them off; the Governor clicked them off. These goals are to have all children start school ready to learn. Make the United States students first in the world in science and math and prove it in world-class competence as well in English and history and geography. Achieve at least a 90-percent high school graduation rate. Make all adults literate. And make our schools safe, disciplined, and drug-free. We not only need safe schools, but our citizens deserve safe streets and safe communities.

Two and a half years ago I sent to the Congress comprehensive crime legislation to strengthen and toughen our criminal justice system. The conference committee -- it's the way it works back in Washington -- last night reported a bill that is simply not acceptable. So let me be clear: I would have to veto this bill because it would weaken our criminal justice system. We need a stronger criminal justice system today. And I think all the communities and families across our country understand that.

The America 2000 movement is spreading like wildfire. Just since August, hundreds of communities have accepted our challenge to adopt the national goals and a strategy to reach them, to measure their progress, and to plan on creating at least one new American school.

Anyone can take the initiative. In Omaha, Nebraska, the head of the chamber of commerce got the ball rolling. He enlisted his Governor and a mayor and newspaper publisher, and now both his city and his State are America 2000 communities. In Detroit, the dynamic school board chairman and school superintendent took the lead. In September, I kicked off, helped -- Lamar and I kicked off the Maine 2000 effort -- the State of Maine. And since then, 50 communities have signed on.

I cannot emphasize enough, it is communities, not legislatures, not bureaucratic agencies, not interest groups, but communities that drive the engine for America 2000. And sure, these other institutions can help. But most of America's education revolution will be conducted, as we've heard here today, community by community. And we're seeing just the beginning of a powerful movement that will change this country enduringly for the better.

Here in Ohio, I feel I'm preaching not just to the converted but to some of the people who started it all. Ohio's history is intertwined with our earliest decisions about what kind of Nation we would be. The first laws that charted Ohio's future, including the famous Northwest Ordinance, made education an American priority, a unifying national cause.

The Ohio Territory was an American community working to revolutionize education by the end of the 18th century. America's founders understood that public benefit did not always have to depend on government activity or government spending or government control. This was, and is, the proper basis for defining public education.

Whether a school is organized by privately financed educators or town councils or religious orders or denominations, any school that serves the public and is held accountable by the public authority provides public education.

A key tenet of America 2000 is real reform for parents to choose their children's schools. We won't have full confidence, full choice in education until the dollar follows the scholar. And that's how it works in Federal aid programs for college students. You know that. We don't exclude students who choose private schools, including religious schools.

By unleashing market forces, we can encourage creative competition among public, private, and parochial schools. This will improve education for everyone. I congratulate Ohio on the 1989 reform legislation that takes the first steps toward parental choice. This provides choice only among public schools, that is, government-operated schools. This will help, though we know we've got to go farther.

With new leaders like Governor Voinovich and Ted Sanders, I expect Ohio to go the full distance in giving choice to parents. Choice is crucial to our other goals of holding down costs and cutting back bureaucracy and spurring quality.

I've just had a wonderful experience touring the Fort Hayes Education Center where they're breaking the mold. They're showing us the future. The old bureaucratic ways of public education are giving way to flexible programs designed to produce results for tomorrow's world.

At Fort Hayes, companies such as Battelle and Ross Labs are sponsoring science and vocational programs that result in good jobs immediately upon graduation. Fort Hayes also provides a superb 4-year high school for the fine arts.

Partnerships like these between schools and businesses make everyone a winner. Businesses can teach our schools to trim bureaucracy and replace antagonism with teamwork. They can help us meet world-class standards. We're moving ahead with those standards.

The Nation's math teachers have already led the way, and now the National Academy of Sciences and the National Endowment for the Humanities are at work on standards for science and history. States and local communities can, and will, put much of America 2000 into place without new Federal laws. And thank heaven for that because some of the powers that be in Congress are fighting tooth and nail against our most important reforms.

I sent Congress a package of fresh proposals for the future. Our bill offers choice for parents and a program for new American schools that will show each State and community new ways to excellence. We need to throw off past failures and fight for a future that works.

This isn't -- let me emphasize this -- this is not a liberal-versus-conservative fight. It's a revolution against business as usual. The American people want education that works. The Gallup survey shows overwhelming public support for the America 2000 goals and strategies. Parents support us. So do most teachers. The beltway types may be afraid of reform, but I believe they are out of touch with rank-and-file teachers who welcome reform.

After all, teachers don't want to be cogs in a bureaucratic machine. Teaching is an art, a noble profession. And thank God for the teachers of this country. I can assure you that teachers don't want to waste their time making their way through a maze of regulations, making their way through a maze of work rules. They don't like certification rules that keep good teachers out. They want to teach, and they want good teachers all around them.

With business and church and community leaders, with parents and teachers, we'll forge a coalition that simply cannot be stopped. Hundreds of American communities in every State are deciding where they want their children to be in the year 2000. And they're getting to work right now to make that happen. Just thinking about the potential of our movement has the old thinkers rattled. You've heard of Polly Williams in Milwaukee. She's a State representative whose constituents are mostly black and poor. And she's a Democrat, a liberal Democrat. Polly Williams watched the government pour more and more tax dollars into inner-city public schools that were producing less and less. And she said, ``Enough is enough.''

She joined forces with Governor Tommy Thompson so that her constituents, poor working people, people on public assistance could gain power to choose where and how their children would be educated. Rich people already enjoy choice. They can afford both high taxes and private school tuition. Or they can move to a neighborhood with better schools. It's working people, it's poor and middle-income people who have the most to gain from reform.

Somebody was telling me with well-deserved pride that Fort Hayes Center is one of a kind. I want you to know that I won't rest, we must not rest, until we have a thousand Fort Hayeses all across the country. Community by community, we must create new American schools and a whole new public attitude about education.

We need to empower teachers not to punch timeclocks, not to fend off thugs and drug leaders, but to teach. And we need to give parents real choice, and we need to give you young people out there all the knowledge, skills, and discipline that you'll need for your exciting and demanding future.

And now I would like to ask four of Ohio's young people to join me on stage: Matthew Shepard, whom I mentioned earlier, a sophomore at Tiffin Columbian High School; Sandra Oh, a junior from Fairfield High School in Fairfield; Louie Hendon, a senior at John Adams High School in Cleveland; and Melissa Bostrom, a senior from Princeton High School in Sharonville. Welcome.

Note: The President spoke at 11:58 a.m. in Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio. In his remarks, the President referred to John A. Middleton, superintendent of the Columbus City School District. The President's remarks were broadcast live on local television stations.

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