Remarks by First Lady Laura Bush at the National School Boards Association
NATIONAL SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION 64TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Orlando Convention Center
MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very much. Thank you so much. Thank you all a lot. And thank you, Mossi. Thank you for the very, very warm welcome. I was privileged to get to meet the Wheaton Warrenville High School Show Band backstage while I was waiting to come on. And I know I got to see what you get to see every day in your school districts, and that's the promise of American children. It was really a thrill to get to see them. (Applause.)
I'm pleased to be here today with Secretary Paige who will address this prestigious group after I do and I want to thank all of you, everyone in the room, for your commitment to children. Volunteers reflect the true strength of America, and you willingly devote your time to strengthen our schools. Your work affects your entire community and, as local elected officials, you're held responsible for reading, writing and arithmetic, and also for safety, nutrition and, especially when you've had a bad year, the football coach. (Laughter.)
President Bush and I appreciate your hard work to make sure no child is left behind in school or in life. This is your priority and this is our national responsibility. The No Child Left Behind law helps us meet this responsibility, and today every child has a better chance of achieving success in school. More children are learning through research-based programs. Parents have more information about their child's progress and more teachers are receiving training and resources. (Applause.)
President Bush and I visit schools across the country and we see the impact that education reform is having in our schools. Children are excited about learning. Some might be a little too excited, especially when it comes to history. When George and I visited a school in Hawaii, one second grader welcomed us by bellowing "George Washington!" (Laughter.) It was close, just the wrong George W.
President Bush and I read with children and we talk to them about the importance of education, and these visits reinforce our belief that education policy is not about passing laws in Washington; it's all about children. (Applause.)
At the time of Brown versus Board of Education, some people believed that black children didn't deserve to be in the same classroom with white children. The court said they did. Yet today, there are still people who believe that some children can't achieve high standards. I actually read an article in which a reporter wrote, "We're going to have to stomach the fact that some children will be left behind." I refuse to stomach that. I know you won't either. (Applause.)
All children have the ability to learn, and it's incumbent upon us to make sure that they do. No Child Left Behind is based on the premise that all children must have access to high-quality schools, regardless of their skin color, their disability or their zip code. (Applause.) Some people still don't see it that way. We've heard all the arguments, not enough money, too much testing and too rigorous standards. But behind those excuses is the belief that some children cannot learn. As a former teacher and librarian, I just don't buy that argument. I see the promise of reform in America's schools. I see children excited and ready to learn. I see teachers and principals who refuse to accept failure, and school board members who are embracing reform to make our schools the best in the world.
President Bush and Congress are investing more in education than ever before. Ten years ago, the federal government spent $286 billion on elementary and secondary education. Today, we're investing more than $500 billion. With the President's 2005 budget, funding for elementary and secondary education will be up by nearly 50 percent. States have more resources and flexibility than ever before. And money is there for schools to use it wisely.
And that's just what Triton Elementary in Indiana is doing. Triton received more than $200 in Reading First grants and they've trained teachers in research-proven methods to teach reading. Teachers also learn to use student assessments to modify and adjust their teaching. Every student in kindergarten through third grade receives individual attention in phonemic awareness, vocabulary and comprehension. Teachers sit down with students to assess their work and track their achievement. Principal Tom Bowers said, "I think we're working smarter as well as harder. Every school in the country has been asked to improve, and we've been given $219,000 to do it."
Students at David Hill Elementary in Oregon are achieving similar success. With the Reading First grant, the school hired an on-site reading coach and trained teachers. Students in kindergarten through third grade spend more than an hour every day on reading. Principal Ann Doyle said, "It's exciting to see the teachers excited and it's exciting to see the gains that the kids are making."
Children in large schools and small are making gains because teachers now have better resources to measure students' progress. For the first time in history, every state has an approved accountability plan. Schools are measuring student achievement so that children who need help are not hidden in the averages. And achievement gaps are being identified and closed.
In the first year under No Child Left Behind, students in large urban schools made strong advancements in reading and math. The Council of Great City Schools found that 47 percent of fourth graders scored at or above proficient in reading, and that's a gain of almost five points from 2002. More than 50 percent of the students tested scored at or above proficient in math -- a seven-point gain. The council's executive director, Michael Casserly, said, "It's one of the first signs that major cities are making substantial headway at the elementary school level in teaching students to read."
Learning in school begins with reading, and No Child Left Behind has made the expectation of literacy the law of the land. When my husband was governor of Texas, he started the Texas Reading Initiative to provide scientifically based reading instruction for all students. Kindergarten, first and second grade teachers were trained in research-based instruction methods. Teachers monitor student progress from kindergarten to third grade and adjust their lessons for students who need more help. All students are tested in third grade to determine whether they have the reading skills they need to succeed in higher grades. This year, more than 90 percent of third graders passed the state assessment. And this increase is dramatic, because students had to meet a higher standard this year and answer more questions correctly. Scores for minority students and low-income students increased by about nine points, and scores for limited English proficient students increased from 70 to 82 percent.
No Child Left Behind ensures that schools are held accountable for the academic progress of students learning English. In California, 43 percent of students who took the state English language development test scored at advanced levels last year. This is up by 34 percent in 2002. The state superintendent said, "These scores are another powerful indicator that holding all of our students to standards is working."
Through No Child Left Behind, states are setting their own standards for student achievement, for teacher quality and accountability. Testing enables teachers, parents and school board members to learn how students are performing so they can celebrate a child's success and address their challenges. Teachers at Stansbury Elementary in Utah are using a program to routinely check student progress on the year's curriculum. They can now track a child's progress from their first day of school to their last. And teachers can tailor their lesson plans to better meet their students' needs.
Teacher Nicole Nickles said, "It's fabulous because it's so exact. It'd rather spend 15 minutes having my students do this to find out what their needs are now than to find out later what they needed and I didn't provide."
Testing also helps teachers evaluate their own skills. In Denver, more than 1,600 teachers voted for a plan to base their raises on student performance. Teachers would receive bonuses for meeting the standards they set.
We must test student progress. Too many students are moved through school even though they read and write far below their grade level. This isn't fair to students or to their teachers. Recently, several teachers at Clara Barton high school wrote to the school chancellor. They cited their concerns over students who are moved from grade to grade without learning the basics. They wrote, "As New York City high school teachers, we are wholeheartedly opposed to the practice of social promotion. It is not a solution." (Applause.) "It's a lie that is eroded year by year, as students realize they have been given flattery rather than the basic skills they need to survive in a classroom, and even more, in life.
The affects of failing to teach children are well documented. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only one in six African American and one in five Hispanic high school seniors are proficient in reading. We know that if children are not reading by the end of the third or fourth grade, their chances of learning to read well decrease every year. By the time they get to high school, they often drop out. No Child Left Behind ensures that we don't pass children from grade to grade without giving them the skills they need to succeed. President Bush has committed nearly $2 billion to train teachers in reading instruction. And the President has also proposed funding for a striving readers program to help older students who are not reading at grade level. All children need to learn to read, and they need teachers who inspire their love of learning. (Applause.)
Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs, but it's also one of the most rewarding. You may have heard of one of my favorite depictions of teaching. If a doctor, lawyer or dentist had 40 people in his office all at one time, all who had different needs and some who didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer or dentist, without assistants, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job. (Applause.)
But I know, and every one of us know the difference a teacher can make in a child's life. When I was eight years old, I made the very mature decision to become a teacher. My mother said she knew I'd become a teacher when she heard me scolding my dolls for not paying attention. (Laughter.) But the real influence on my decision to teach was my second grade teacher, Miss Gnagy. She was my favorite teacher and I wanted to be just like her.
I'll never forget that very first day of teaching when I did become a teacher. I had everything ready in my classroom. The chairs were perfectly positioned, the pencils sharpened. Then the children walked in. Well, some walked in, a few ran in and a few were dragged in by their parents. I had earned a teaching degree, but no textbook could have prepared me for the pressure of 20 sets of eyes staring at me with total expectation. At 9:00 a.m., we started to work. We recited the alphabet and numbers. We colored and put together puzzles. We read a few books and then a few more. And by 9:15 a.m., I had gone through my entire day's lesson plans. (Laughter and applause.)
We all believe in giving teachers the resources they need. No Child Left Behind provides nearly $3 billion for teacher training and nearly $60 million for teacher recruitment. We must do more to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession, and to provide incentives to keep them in the classroom. (Applause.)
Our highest achieving students are not enrolling in our colleges of education. I work with several recruitment programs including the New Teacher Project, which recruits talented mid-career professionals to teach in low-income and rural schools, and Teach for America, which recruits high performing recent college graduates to teach in underserved schools, and Troops to Teachers, which taps retired military men and women to second careers as teachers.
We must provide teachers and schools with the flexibility and support to help every child. We expect results from No Child Left Behind and every parent in America expects results from our schools. (Applause.)
No Child Left Behind is not a one-size-fits-all law, and Secretary Paige is working with state and local officials to make it work, and I know he will talk more with you about this in a few minutes.
Every one of us in this room want every child to receive an education that prepares them for a lifetime of learning and a lifetime of opportunity. We understand the need for education reform. We know that local control must be preserved. We want teachers to be qualified in the subjects they teach. And we want our schools to be accountable for results.
These are our common goals and our common dreams for our children. Let's reaffirm our stated purpose, to close the achievement gap, to ensure that every child learns, and to expand opportunity for all. This is important work and it's our work.
President Bush and I received a letter from a mother in New Jersey who thanked the President for No Child Left Behind. She wrote, "By expecting excellence for our children and working with them to achieve it, I wonder how many dreams will be fulfilled. A child who was once passed by may become the teacher that makes all the difference, or a surgeon who saves a life. Or maybe that child will write a poem that brings tears to our eyes. Thank you for giving all our children the chance to truly shine."
We must work together for the teachers and the doctors and the poets of tomorrow. Children spend such a short time of their life in school, we don't have years to argue and to criticize and to ignore. Our mission to reform education is far from over. But already we've made great strides. Nearly half a century ago, nine African American children bravely took their first steps into the school doors of Central High. Today, we must make a promise to students, parents and ourselves -- that when children walk out of those doors, they'll have the knowledge they need to succeed. Together, we can fulfill the promise for every child in America and no child will be left behind.
Thank you all very, very much. Thank you very, very much. Thank you for your really good work. I appreciate it. Thank you all. (Applause.)
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES