WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 16, 2000) -- In a speech today at the National Press Club, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said the recent elections are evidence of growing public agreement about education. He called it a "new consensus, built on partnership, not partisanship."
Riley cited the defeat of voucher initiatives in California and Michigan, stating that he is pleased by "a consensus that moves away from the divisiveness of vouchers and toward support for partnership and investment in our public schools and helping families pay for college."
His remarks come during both American Education Week and International Education Week. Before his speech, Riley joined Danish Education Minister Margarethe Vestager in signing an agreement to expand exchanges in vocational-technical education.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, Minister Vestager. I'd also like to welcome all the members of the diplomatic corps and the many education associations who are represented here today. It is a pleasure to be here with you.
I think we can all agree that this has been one of the most stirring and remarkable weeks in America in our memory. The same subject is talked about at every office water cooler. Yes, it's safe to say that this big event --the excitement of "International Education Week"-- has really gotten the nation talking.
For those of you who may not have been following this issue closely, let me tell you that the President has proclaimed this week to be "International Education Week." The goal is to encourage students from across America to learn about other languages, nations, and cultures. This week is also American Education Week, so we have two good reasons to focus on the importance of public education.
On Monday, I spent some time with Director General Matsuura of UNESCO, who pointed out a number of striking facts.
He said that 135 million children in the world get no schooling at all. Just think about that. There are about 54 million school children in the United States. For every American child in a school, there are 2 to 3 children in the world who never in their lives see a classroom or a teacher.
The Director-General also pointed out that about 800 million adults in the world cannot read or write.
These statistics should make us all grateful that a free public education is guaranteed to every young person in the U.S. This is the backbone of our democracy, and it continues to be one of our great strengths.
Think about it -- our public schools educate 90 percent of our children. This includes students from every background -- of varying religions, ethnicity, and economic status.
Our schools educate millions of children who speak a language other than English at home, who have disabilities, or who are hoping to be the first in their families to attend college.
The graduates of our public schools include America's great writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and great leaders -- as well as millions of hard-working citizens who care for their families and create our economic prosperity.
But let's not make the mistake of thinking that because our national legislative bodies are split and the presidential race is close, that the American people are completely divided. In fact, Americans have spoken loudly and clearly. They have demonstrated their support for education.
Both presidential candidates, not to mention many of the candidates for Congress, continually addressed the issue of education and offered support for a national role in education. And polls show that citizens throughout the country embrace investment in public schools and reject risky schemes that divide communities, like vouchers, which I will talk more about in a moment.
We have reached a new consensus around education in this nation for improving it and making it a national priority, even as we respect that it is a state responsibility and a local function. Indeed, one of the most promising aspects of this consensus is the near-agreement earlier this month by Congressional budget negotiators that would have meant a record increase in education funding.
As many of you know, several years ago in the United States we had a fierce debate about the federal role in education. One side wanted to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education. The other side said the federal government had a responsibility to support state and local improvement efforts. That debate is now over: The Department is alive and well, and we are still working hard to support America's schools by building a bottom-up, locally controlled approach to school improvement.
The primary reason the debate has ended is that supporters of public education worked diligently to form partnerships, to reach across party lines, and to avoid the cynicism and partisanship that can be so destructive.
When I spoke at this Press Club in May of 1993, I promised that the Clinton Administration would support such an approach. We have delivered on this promise.
Let me give you one example to illustrate what this has meant for America's families.
The federal after-school initiative now funds programs for more than 800,000 children.
Thousands of local and national partnerships bring together tens of thousands of Americans in support of these after-school programs. These partnerships have brought out the best civic spirit of our foundations, businesses, and community- and faith-based organizations.
Students' minds don't close down at 3 -- and neither should their schools. And it's through these strong local partnerships that we are keeping schools open and giving children better opportunities to succeed.
And do you know how many federal employees at my Department work to support the program? Just 13. Now, that's the true realization of meaningful, bottom-up, locally controlled school improvement through federal resources and thousands of partnerships. If there is one word in America that has been part of all of our greatest achievements, it is "partnership."
My friends, we have proven that our Department can support better education without creating huge bureaucracies, without intruding on local control, and by empowering communities and citizens to work together as partners in education.
I invite all Americans to get behind local efforts to improve public education and give all children the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I urge those who would take money from our public schools through vouchers to look at these elections, listen to the American people, and join these successful efforts to turn around low-performing schools.
It troubles me that some people in this country have made a habit of bashing public schools. Let's join together and work for improving our public schools instead of constantly dragging them down. As Abraham Lincoln said, "He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help."
I am pleased that there is a clear consensus emerging in this area -- a consensus that moves away from the divisiveness of vouchers and toward support for partnership and investment in our public schools and helping families pay for college.
We could see the spirit of consensus in California and Michigan last week, where voters supported their public schools and overwhelmingly rejected school voucher initiatives. This marks the continuation of a trend in the U.S.: When faced with ballot initiatives that support vouchers, voters repeatedly have said: "no, thank you."
Too much time has been spent debating and fighting over the idea of school vouchers. And too much money has been spent as well. Just imagine if we made better use of all the time, money, and human capital that was spent in these two states on both sides of the voucher debate. California and Michigan could have spent millions of dollars for quality teachers, instructional computers, or building safe and modern schools.
As I've traveled around the country, I've seen powerful examples of schools that have gone from being among our nation's worst to among our nation's best. They have done it by focusing on what works and by a sustained effort of working together. There is a growing consensus about the effectiveness of higher standards, reasonable assessments, parent involvement, well-trained teachers, and a quality-learning environment. And we know how to support better education at every stage of a child's life.
Let's start with 3- to 5-year-olds. Before a child even enters school, we know that it's important for the child to pick up "early learning" skills, such as the ability to recognize the letters of the alphabet and to count. That's why every family should have the option of sending their child to a high-quality preschool.
Next, consider the early years of schooling. Research shows that students do better in small classes, where they can get one-on-one attention as they learn to read. So far, federal funds have helped hire 29,000 qualified teachers; if Congress will back us up, local communities will be able to hire 71,000 more. And we also must work toward turning our large schools into smaller learning communities.
We also know that when we set high standards for every student, our children will rise to meet those standards. One of the reasons I am optimistic about the future of public education is that all 50 states now have embraced high academic standards.
At the core of high standards are challenging classes. In fact, research confirms that rigorous course taking --especially by those from low- income families-- can make all the difference in their chances of academic success and getting to college.
Finally, it has become clear that college attendance is more important than ever. We cannot ignore the record numbers of families today who realize that college is a critical necessity for their children's future. President Clinton recognized this trend and convinced Congress to establish the HOPE scholarship and Lifetime Learning tax credits that have made college more affordable. We must also continue our strong support for Pell Grants, college work-study, and student loans.
These and other initiatives have encouraged many colleges to form partnerships with local schools, community organizations, and businesses. Working together, we have increased college-going opportunities. The America Reads program, for instance, is part of college work-study. Thousands of college students are receiving financial aid to work as tutoring partners for young children who are having difficulty learning to read.
GEAR UP and TRIO encourage middle schools and high schools to form partnerships with institutions of higher learning in order to encourage disadvantaged children to think about and prepare for college. And many colleges and universities are reaching out more and more to work with businesses and community colleges to expand, better prepare, and diversify their pool of applicants.
These kinds of initiatives and partnerships have been extraordinarily effective in many areas, but we have much more work to do. We need to address the shortage of teachers and principals, respond to increases in student enrollment, to build safe and modern schools, make effective educational technology accessible to all students, and prepare young people to compete internationally.
International education offers further opportunities to expand partnerships, strengthen our schools, and build consensus. American students must develop a broad understanding of the world, including other languages and cultures.
There's an old joke that says a great deal about the way our nation historically has treated the study of foreign countries and languages. The joke goes like this: What do you call a person who knows two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person who knows three languages? Trilingual. And what do you call a person who knows only one language? An American.
We need to alter the truth once underlined by that humor, and we can do that by making people-to-people connections with those from other countries. This has been an intense week of international diplomacy for me. Almost 100 ambassadors or their senior staff participated in International Education Week by visiting schools and colleges in the United States. And many of our ambassadors overseas also visited schools
I also met with the education ministers from China and Northern Ireland. These kinds of meetings have become a routine part of the job of Secretary of Education. The world is more education-minded than ever before, and this has been another sweeping change that we have seen over the past eight years.
And I am pleased to have Danish Education Minister Vestager with us today. I should also recognize a number of Danish foreign exchange students who are with us today. By the way, Danish students take 6 years of English and study other languages as well.
Minister Vestager and I just signed an agreement to expand exchanges between our countries in vocational-technical education. Denmark has earned the prize for the best technical and vocational training system in the world. And America's community colleges are also very highly regarded in these areas. So this partnership should be very productive. I'm especially pleased that businesses and schools from both countries are forming a partnership to support the bi-national agreement.
Sometimes people forget that an emphasis on international education helps strengthen other aspects of domestic education. For example, American math teachers are using videos to learn from successful teachers in high-performing countries. And many nations are learning about and emulating our higher education system.
Another issue that has been prevalent in every discussion of international education is technology. This administration has been a world leader in connecting our schools, classrooms, and libraries to vast Internet information resources, putting modern computers in the hands of teachers and students, and making technology an integral part of lifelong learning.
I hope that every school in the U.S. will use technology to share information with a school from another country. This would encourage children to learn a second language and invite teachers to work together to meet the challenges that arise in every classroom. The U.S. Department of Education has a great resource to help get this done -- "The Teacher's Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet," which is available on our Web site.
I want to share with you a personal observation of what these kinds of international collaborations are all about. Not too long ago, I visited a 5th grade class with Vice President Gore, who has often taken the lead for us on educational technology issues. A few of the students in that class were on-line with students in Ethiopia. The Vice President asked them what they were learning, and they said, "We've learned we can be friends."
What a great lesson. My Department and the State Department are working with educators, business leaders, government leaders, and others to develop strategies to achieve the goals of President Clinton's recent directive on international education. That directive was designed to increase student and teacher exchanges, and to strengthen foreign language study at every level. It also called on colleges and universities to incorporate international education, and called for better exchange of information across international borders to improve education practices worldwide.
Copies of the directive are available here today. And we will issue a detailed report on our work to achieve the President's goals before the end of the year. In fact, an interim report will be available on our Web site in the next few days.
I have tried today to outline a number of areas within education in which there is a new consensus. This consensus is built on partnership, not partisanship. It is a consensus that offers the potential for real opportunity -- if we seize it. We may settle this election by one-hundredth of one percent. But on all the issues I mentioned, the public supports them by a wide margin.
Last month, we were inches away from a bipartisan budget agreement. Negotiators from both parties, working in partnership, believed they had reached consensus. They had agreed to a $7.5 billion increase --the largest one-year investment in history-- that would have allocated $1.75 billion for class size reduction and doubled funding for after-school programs. It would also have made significant investments in helping local communities repair and renovate their schools, recruit and train quality teachers, and turn around low-performing schools.
In addition, this bipartisan agreement would have helped millions of low-income middle and high school students get the extra mentoring and financial assistance they need to prepare for and go to college.
But, at the last minute, the leadership overruled their own negotiators and rejected a strong education budget that put children first.
Congress needs to understand that the future doesn't belong to Democrats or Republicans or Independents. It belongs to students in millions of classrooms in schools and colleges across the country.
I am confident that America will weather this close election. In fact, I hope it will make us stronger and help us to see the wisdom of working together and forming partnerships. Congress can help -- by passing the strong education budget they agreed to, and they should do it as soon as possible.
In closing, I'd like to turn again to the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, who reminded us, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." In that spirit, it is time to reach across the lines that divide us. Education offers us this opportunity to build consensus -- to transcend partisanship and replace it with partnership.
That would be a great way to honor not only American Education Week and International Education Week, but also our children and our hopes for their future.
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