Public Papers

Remarks to Participants in the Elementary School Recognition Program


Thank you, and welcome to the White House lawn on this beautiful fall day. We're delighted to have you all here. And thank you, Secretary Cavazos, and thank you especially for your leadership in keeping education at the very top of our national agenda. A special welcome to the Governors who are with us today and those who participated in last year's economic [education] summit. I'm so glad that this many are here. And I want to greet Governor Campbell and Governor Casey, Governor Perpich, Governor Schaefer, and I'm just delighted they are here. Will you all stand up, please, and have a welcome from the crowd here? [Applause]

And also with us today is Gil Grosvenor, a great friend of ours, friend of education, president of the National Geographic Society, to whom we are indebted for the distribution of this pro-education poster. Gil, thank you very much to you and your associates. And a special welcome to all of you, our special guests.

You know, Barbara's here. I happen to think with some husbandly pride that she's doing a remarkable job for education. She's just finished a reception inside for her new radio program, ``Barbara Bush Story Time.'' It's going to be kind of like Fiorello LaGuardia for you oldtimers -- [laughter] -- used to do this. There's a slight complication on this, however, because attending that reception, and with us today, is Bob Saggett of ``America's Funniest Home Videos.'' Is he over there somewhere? Bob, you're welcome to stay, but your act is over there in the press room; that's where you ought to be to get your material. [Laughter] Thank you very much for joining us today.

I'm honored to welcome the representatives of 221 elementary schools chosen this year as winners in our school recognition program. Each of your schools is as diverse as this great country: They are public and private; they range in size from 170 to 1,400 pupils; they serve children from scarcely populated rural areas to some of our largest cities. But you all have something important in common: your success and achievement, ideals to which the other schools across the breadth of this nation can look for inspiration.

This year's winners were judged on the quality of the education they provide, their students' achievements and attitude, and their teachers' and administrators' leadership. But perhaps the most important criteria was a sense of shared purpose among faculty, students, parents, and then the entire community. These schools share a vision of hope that they can foster the full potential and development of each child and, by doing that, help make this a better nation and a better world.

However, those higher goals may have been lost on some of the youngest winners. I understand that when one first grader from Colwyn Elementary School told her parents about her principal being honored, she exclaimed: ``Sister Mary won the Academy Award?'' [Laughter]

We're here today not only to salute these individual schools but also to restate our commitment as a nation to education. For our democracy can remain vital only if our people continue to grow in knowledge and wisdom, facing each new choice with an increased understanding of the complex and competitive world in which we live. And we must realize that education is the key to our future, to our identity as a nation, and to our very soul as a people. I came to this job believing that America can and must have a restructured and revitalized education system to enable us to compete successfully in the world and to empower each citizen to achieve his or her fullest potential. After all, education is our most enduring legacy, vital to everything we are and everything we can become.

We're celebrating an important anniversary here. One year ago this month, we held the President's education summit with the Governors. In fact, my first stop after the summit was right here, where I spoke to last year's winner of this prestigious award. And the summit itself grew out of our pledge to lead a national effort toward a renaissance of excellence in American schools. As a result of this historic event, involving the Nation's Governors and our Cabinet, we emerged with a sense of direction for individual and collective efforts to improve the quality of education for all. For the first time, Americans now have a clear sense of direction toward national education. With the invaluable cooperation of teachers and parents and community leaders and a variety of educators, and working with the Governors at the beginning of this year, I announced our six education goals to be met by the year 2000 -- absolutely essential goals that recognize education as a lifelong enterprise. And I want to repeat them now because they must become so familiar that they seem woven into the fabric of our lives.

First, by the year 2000, all children in America must start school ready to learn. And second, the high school graduation rate must increase to at least 90 percent. And third, American students must be competent in 5 critical subjects with their progress measured in grades 4, 8, and 12. Fourth, our students must be first in the world in science and math. And fifth, every adult American must be able to read. And finally, every one of our schools must be safe, disciplined, and drug-free.

I am very pleased today to be able to unveil a wonderful poster displaying these important goals that have been produced, as I said earlier, by the National Geographic Society, and it will be sent to every single school in the Nation. National Geographic has joined the fight to ensure a first-class education for every American child. And once again, Gil Grosvenor, we are very, very grateful to you and your associates over there. And I'm grateful to you two for holding that up in the wind. [Laughter] You're doing a first-class job there, Marcus and Jennifer.

You know, in this past year since our summit, as we've turned our attention to the formidable task of ensuring that these goals are attained, we've seen an extraordinary response as reform took off across our nation. And one of the most important reforms sweeping our great country is educational choice, empowering parents to get involved in their children's education. Today, with us -- and I spot her right down here -- is Polly Williams, a courageous leader who brought choice to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, school. Polly, would you please stand up, too?

And it's teamwork that's engendering this inspiring success, an extraordinarily constructive partnership between the Federal level, the Governors of our States and territories. Showing our administration-wide commitment to educational excellence, we've also begun exciting programs involving all of the Cabinet Departments.

Today, I issue a challenge to every American to join us. Step forward in your own way to respond to one of the most crucial issues that we face. And students, set your sights and your personal goals high, so that your future can match your finest dreams. Educators, you're engaged in noble, terribly important work. And we congratulate you and look forward to your continuing dedication to American educational excellence. And then to parents, we urge you to become more involved, more involved in your children's education. And lastly, to the communities, we've made great leaps in getting communities more engaged. The Governors have done a sensational job going to the communities getting them more engaged in local-level action, too. But we need more.

All of us must commit ourselves fully now -- right now. And America, really on this one, can't afford to wait, or waste, an entire generation. To all of you, as we look ahead to our goals and to the year 2000, let's answer the call: Let tomorrow begin today.

Congratulations to all of you. Thank you for your interest in education. Thank you for caring about our kids. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:36 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Governors Carroll A. Campbell of South Carolina, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Rudy Perpich of Minnesota, and William D. Schaefer of Maryland; Wisconsin State legislator Polly Williams; and students Marcus Laruex and Jennifer Abreo.