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Prepared Remarks for Secretary Spellings at the Girl Scouts 2006 Board Chairs and CEOs Work Session

Note that in the midst of patronizing remarks, rigor makes an appearance.

February 28, 2006

Thanks to my friend and fellow Texan Patricia [Diaz Dennis] for introducing me. It's great to be here with you and everybody at Girl Scouts of the USA.

Before I start, I want to take a minute to congratulate Patricia on being the first Latina elected as board chair of Girl Scouts of the USA. Back in Texas, we worked together on education issues for a long time, and I'm happy that we're still working together now at the national level.

I would also like to thank another fellow Texan, Kathy Cloninger, for giving me such a warm welcome. Kathy has done a lot for this organization, and I especially appreciate her focus on girls in math and science.

As you can see from your programs, I was a Girl Scout myself back in Houston. I've still got the cool glasses. And I liked my beret so much I've kept it all these years.

I still look forward to Girl Scout cookie time. My favorites are Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties, and deciding between them is still one of the toughest decisions I make every year.

I sold a lot of cookies with my best friend, Joanne Scofield. We used to sit in a booth in front of K-Mart on Saturdays, and we also went door to door.

We had a deal that we would take turns being the one who made the sales pitch. But at the last minute, she would chicken out and say, "I don't want to talk. You do it." So I did all the talking, and I've been doing all the talking ever since. Joanne went into teaching, and I went into marketing. And in the true Girl Scout tradition, we're still great friends today.

The Girl Scouts also taught me a lot about serving others, and I'm proud and honored to continue that tradition by working for a president who believes, as we do, that every child can learn and every child deserves a chance to succeed.

Our primary federal education policy, known as No Child Left Behind, is all about making sure that we're providing every student—regardless of race, background, or ZIP Code—with a high-quality education. And across our country, schools are showing it can be done.

In the last two years, the number of fourth-graders in our country who learned their fundamental math skills increased by 235,000 kids, enough to fill 500 elementary schools. According to the national education report card released last summer, over the last five years, more reading progress was made among 9-year-olds than in the previous three decades combined.

We're on the right track. I see it when I visit places like Holmes Elementary in Spokane, Wash., which practically doubled the percentage of students reading and doing math on grade level—in just one year! And C.L. Gideons Elementary, one of the poorest schools in Atlanta, Ga., where fourth-graders posted a 23-point gain in reading and a 34-point gain in math since 2003.

We started with the basics: ensuring every child is reading and doing math on grade level by 2014. The next step is to make sure they're also learning the problem-solving skills that are essential for 21st century jobs.

You know as well as I do that our children are not living in the same world we grew up in—let alone the world our parents grew up in. When your organization was founded in 1912, Girl Scouts were working on badges like Matron Housekeeper, which focused on vacuuming and polishing a floor. And when I was a Girl Scout in the late 1960s, the most popular badge was called Social Dancer.

Now, I certainly have nothing against a well-kept home, and who doesn't like to dance? But all of us know that today, girls need more advanced skills to succeed.

In the last 50 years, American ingenuity has launched the World Wide Web, mapped the human genome, and developed life-extending drugs and treatment for AIDS. We put a man on the moon, a rover on Mars, and computers in our businesses, our homes, and even our pockets.

Today, American technology from semiconductors to cell phones is connecting people around the world like never before. As a result, what you know means far more than where you live.

While we're sleeping every night, accountants in India are doing our taxes. Radiologists in Australia are reading our X-rays. And technicians in China are building our computers.

To keep up with the competition, we must pick up the pace. We must provide our children with the knowledge and skills to succeed. And we must close the gender gap in math and science.

You know how important this is—you've been working on it since the early 1990s. In fact, I can't say it better than your campaign: "It's her future. Do the math."

Across our country, girls currently make up only a third of Advanced Placement physics classes, and only 15 percent of AP computer science classes. And at the college level, less than 20 percent of engineering majors are women.

Meanwhile, math and science are becoming more and more essential in careers from the factory floor to the boardroom. Whether filling "white collar" or "blue collar" positions, employers today want workers with "pocket protector" skills—creative problem solvers with strong math and science backgrounds.

Business Week recently had a cover story titled "Math Will Rock Your World." As technology levels the global playing field, American workers need higher-level math and science skills. Math teaches problem solving. Science teaches how to investigate our world. These are essential skills in every field, and we must make sure our children are learning them—especially our girls. That's certainly what I want for my two daughters!

Clearly, we'd better do something about the lack of girls in math and science, and we'd better do it now. As your public service announcement shows, we must help girls go from Charlotte's Web to Charlotte's Web site. And every day, you're showing us how to get there.

Today's Girl Scout troops can earn up to 75 badges that make math, science, engineering, and technology relevant. Like Math Whiz, which teaches girls to calculate their daily lives from flight times to sports statistics. Or Science in Action, which turns them into junior forensic scientists, learning to identify fingerprints and extract DNA from fruit flies.

You've also formed terrific partnerships with organizations like Intel, Lockheed Martin, Lucent Technologies, NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Education. These partnerships help girls develop science fair projects in engineering and technology, encourage them to explore careers in the fields of tomorrow, and involve entire families in learning the mechanics of our world.

You've made a great start. But as a nation, we need to do more. In many ways, we have a thousand flowers blooming: we all know this is important, but we're not leveraging our resources and we're not working together to improve the big picture.

That's why I'm pleased to announce that later this year, the Department of Education will host the first-ever national summit on girls and math and science. We will bring together our best and brightest women leaders to develop a national strategy to help more girls and their parents get excited about math and science.

I'm thrilled that your own Patricia Diaz Dennis will participate. And the former astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. And Julie Gerberding, who heads the Centers for Disease Control. And Kathie Olsen, from the National Science Foundation, who's a former chief scientist at NASA. And Carol Bartz, chairman, president and CEO of Autodesk, Inc., one of the world's leading employers of engineers.

I look forward to collecting these leaders under one roof so that we can set the stage for long-term action on a national level. After all, you know better than anybody that we women are great at teamwork. When educators get together with women astronauts, scientists, engineers, business leaders, and of course, the Girl Scouts it all adds up to higher achievement for girls and for our nation.

The president and I will continue to do our part. From kindergarten through college, we are working to strengthen math, science, and critical language instruction for all students and to ensure that all students have access to these fields.

For example, many children start to fall behind in math when they're still in elementary school. That's why the president's American Competitiveness Initiative, announced in his State of the Union address, focuses on providing teachers with research-based strategies that are proven to help kids learn.

We're also working to make sure that more students have access to the rigorous courses that prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. Taking just one AP course can increase a child's ability to succeed. Unfortunately, more than a third of high schools across the country offer no AP classes at all. And the College Board tells us there were nearly a half million students who were ready for AP calculus last year but didn't take it or didn't have access to it.

That's why we're working to train 70,000 existing teachers to teach AP courses. We also want to recruit 30,000 qualified math and science professionals to become adjunct high school teachers. More highly trained teachers means more high schools will be able to offer these classes, which means more students will have the opportunity to take them. We would practically quadruple the number of students taking AP tests, from 380,000 today to 1.5 million by 2012.

That's the plan. We need your help to make it happen. You and I know that math and science are the keys to America's success, but we must help children and their parents understand just how essential this is.

Studies show that 84 percent of middle school students would rather clean their rooms, take out the garbage or go to the dentist than do their math homework. And only half of children in grades 6 through 12 consider math skills to be a ticket to success in life.

The numbers for grownups aren't any better. Some 70 percent of high school parents say their children already get enough math and science in school. And only one in 20 parents would encourage their children to pursue fields related to math, science, technology, and engineering.

Some people still think these are "nerdy" fields, irrelevant to the "real" world. They don't seem to realize that our world has changed forever.

When old attitudes die hard, girls—and all of our students—suffer. That's why I'm asking you to be ambassadors for math, science, and a challenging curriculum.

As a mother, I'm living this every day with my eighth-grade daughter. I see her struggle with algebra and think I probably wondered the same thing she's wondering now: how will this matter to my life? So I'll do whatever it takes to show her this is a priority.

I've heard all the excuses for why things can't be done, but we didn't get where we are as a nation by saying things were too hard. Time and time again, from the Wild West to outer space, America's can-do attitude has broken new ground. Now we must raise the bar again.

There are certain things you can't teach in a classroom that our country already has—creativity, diversity, and a free-enterprising spirit that has helped millions of Girl Scouts make a science out of selling cookies.

As President Bush said in the State of the Union, "If we ensure that America's children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world." You know as well as I do that American children will rise to a challenge. All we have to do is give them the ability to compete.

Thank you, and now I'd be happy to answer your questions.

— Margaret Spellings
Press Release


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