Public Papers

Remarks at the Jobs for America's Graduates Awards Ceremony


Thank you, Governor McKernan, for those very kind words. And let me also thank you, given all you have on your plate, for your responsibilities and services -- chairman. I also want to single out just a few here. I noticed you commented on the former Governor, now Senator, Chuck Robb's participation -- chairman now, to those who don't know this, of the executive committee of Jobs for America's Graduates; Ken Smith, who -- for the president; Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who's done an awful lot to make this day possible through her commitment.

And, of course, I want to salute the others that are with us: Governor Wilder of Virginia, and Governor Castle is here from Delaware, Governor Stephens of Montana. And then Kit Bond, a former Governor, I understand is with us, and there he is over here. And then especially to salute Pete Du Pont, the former Governor of Delaware, who really presided over the genesis and really with a stimulating word and thought behind all of this. And I'm delighted to be with all of you distinguished people who have made such a contribution.

Also, I saw earlier Bill Brock, a former Senator, and I know of his interest in all of this, too. And I want to congratulate those Governors not here; it all adds up to a total of 19 Governors being honored here today. And then again, I see a lot of those in town who do the heavy lifting when it comes to supporting all these worthy causes. And I want to thank each and every one of you and your foundations and your companies for seeing the light and getting out front on this important one.

My own interest, as Jock says, dates back to the very beginning -- not really the beginning because Pete gets the credit for that -- but back to my time on the board of directors, when the JAG -- Jobs for America's Graduates -- was nothing more than this idea with plenty of promise. And that's why it is with special pride that I meet with all of you, the ones, literally, who have taken the idea and put it into action with, I think, spectacular results.

One of my great pleasures as President is to shine the spotlight on the success stories. Barbara calls it being a cheerleader. Well, she's darn good at it, too, I might add. But I think we are advantaged in having this special forum from which we can point out to the country the great successes that are taking place. And certainly today, JAG -- Jobs for America's Graduates -- deserves to be center stage. This organization has enjoyed lasting support from State officials, Governors, and from the business community. And it's all for one simple reason: It works; JAG works.

Take a look at the statistics: 92 percent of the young people in this program were able to complete their high school diploma or their GED last year -- 92 percent. And it doesn't stop there. That's what Pete impressed on me and Jock has reimpressed on me. The program assists these new graduates during that critical school-to-work transition. Eighty-three percent of the young people participating made a successful transition into the working world, the armed services, or on to their next level of education. And JAG accomplished all this at half the average cost of other youth employment programs.

You've been especially effective, I'd say, in the inner cities. Kids from low-income households, whose plans for the future don't include college and may not even include finishing high school -- JAG takes aim at these at-risk kids; the ones who, without the right help, without the right encouragement, might find themselves out of school, on their own, no hope, no prospects, without a future, if you will. JAG catches these kids before they drop through the cracks -- 20,000 last year alone.

And since I know a little about this organization, I know that you're not resting on your laurels. I'm especially pleased that, with what Jock said here, that JAG has joined this nationwide Points of Light movement with today's announcement that each participant will be expected to engage in community service activities. JAG's been especially effective -- I said the urban area -- also in the urban schools. And I urge you to extend this inner-city outreach, expand this proven program to as many cities and schools as possible. It's my hope that, before long, there will be a Jobs for America's Graduates program in every State in this country because as great as it is to see these award winners here today -- and I met with them upstairs -- there's a place in this room for all 50 Governors to be here. And it's no surprise to me that this success is taking place then at the State and local level.

Last fall, as the Governors and I forged our historic partnership at the education summit, we recognized that excellence in education required an effort that was not Federal but national, one that brought all levels of government together in common cause to improve America's schools. We've got to follow through on those goals.

I might say parenthetically just a word about a very new development. This morning, Secretary Cavazos, the Secretary of Education, my dear friend, resigned as Secretary. And I think of the contribution he made to establishing these national schools. And I think the country will always be very, very grateful to him for his service to country.

Since then, since that get-together, we've made real progress. A set of six national goals are now in place, as is this target date still in place for the year 2000. Efforts to expand flexibility and also accountability in education are underway. These efforts are underway. And at that summit, as Jock well knows -- Governor McKernan -- the Governors also committed to undertake a major State-by-State effort to restructure the education system.

And I want to turn now to this challenge, the need for a reform effort that results in nothing less than the restructuring of American education. The people in this room are critical to this reform effort: corporate leaders, who know education is the key to competitiveness; Governors, from Maine to California, along with top education officials from each State; teachers and principals, whose daily dedication and commitment will mold tomorrow's citizens; and finally, students, young people, for whom the word education means hope and happiness, opportunity, and achievement.

Let me explain to all of you about what I mean, just briefly, about restructuring our schools. I'll limit myself to the broad principles, because the last thing we need if we want real restructuring is a set of prescriptions, a bureaucratic blueprint from on-high Washington, mandating the States.

One of the keys to this approach is empowering people, not the bureaucracies. And central to empowerment is this concept of choice -- empowering parents to decide which school is best for their children. Choice, you see, is the catalyst for change, the fundamental reform that drives forward all the others.

Let me lay out five principles that should guide our efforts to restructure our schools, principles that empower parents, expand choice, and encourage excellence in education: high expectations, decentralized authority, schools that are responsive, market-oriented, and performance-tested.

Take the first: high expectations. We've got to raise our sights, for our students, for our schools. We've seen the statistics. American kids already rank too low compared to our chief industrial competitors. America can't settle for a C average if we really mean to compete and get ahead. America's schools must, and will, aspire to world-class standards.

Secondly, we've got to decentralize authority. It wouldn't be fair to raise expectations, to ask more of our schools and our students, if we tie the hands of the teachers and the principals, particularly those who make the difference. After all, the secret to our schools' success isn't the size of the bureaucracy. We succeed or fail one student at a time. And the secret is the principal who commands respect and cares deeply about each and every kid who walks into that school, and that special teacher who starts with the same tests and books and blackboard and then makes learning come alive. For years, we've stifled our schools with requirements and redtape. Let's give our schools something teachers and principals don't have enough of: authority. And then let's hold them accountable for the results.

Third, we need responsive schools, customer-driven if you will, schools that involve and engage students and their parents -- the real experts on what's best for their kids. That's central to the concept of choice. Everywhere choice has been tried, choice has worked, in large part because it has brought parents into the process, into that whole process of shaping their kids education. We need schools that are open to the input from the business community, real-world institutions that can work with our schools to educate the kind of employees they'll need tomorrow. If we want schools that work we've got to realize that there isn't any centralized monopoly on wisdom.

Fourth, restructuring means making our schools more market-oriented. We know what competition means in the business world. It's time we recognize that competition can spur excellence in our schools. Let them open their doors to experts from outside the teaching profession who are willing to share their wisdom in the schools. We've got to expand what they call alternative certification and tap the wealth of teaching in our society. There's a lot of talent out there that's precluded by mindless regulation from participating in our schools as teachers. Tap the wealth of that teaching talent that's been kept out of the classroom simply because they lack a teaching certificate.

Fifth and finally, we need to make sure the yardstick we use to measure our achievement is performance-based. All the necessary attention to rules and regulations and procedures, all the measures of dollars spent, all the hardware and software, statistics and studies cannot be allowed to obscure the one measure that matters. And what matters is what works: results -- what kind of kid walks out of that classroom and into society, what our kids know, whether we've taught them how to learn. And one thing more while the subject is performance: We hold students accountable for their own failure. Well, let's do the same, then, for our schools.

These five principles -- high expectations, decentralized authority, schools that are responsive, market-oriented, and performance-based -- these five can guide our efforts as we restructure American education to meet the ambitious goals that have been set for our nation's students and for our schools, first set by the Governors of the 50 States, as we lead America forward to what I hope will be an education renaissance, a system that can compete with any in the world. We've got to redouble our efforts to achieve these goals. This restructuring must take place. I don't have to tell the corporate leaders in this room that America can't expect to remain a first-class economy if we settle for second-rate schools. And let me assure you, there is a role in this restructuring for everybody here, for your energy, for your ideas, for your commitment to educational excellence.

Before I close, let me just thank once again the companies and the foundations and the individuals whose contributions help keep Jobs for America's Graduates going strong. The help you provide to each young person literally lasts a lifetime. And to those students here with us today, let me recognize your accomplishments, but let me ask something else as well. Just as you've been helped along the way, make it your mission to reach out your hand to all the other kids like you who have everything they need to succeed except encouragement.

So, once again, I really wanted to come over here, Jock, to thank you, to thank the other Governors and Senators that are with us here today, thank you for all you're doing to help the kids of this country. May you all have a wonderfully merry Christmas. And may God bless the United States. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 12:35 p.m. in the ballroom at the National Press Club. In his remarks, he referred to the following officials of Jobs for America's Graduates: Gov. John R. McKernan of Maine, chairman of the board of directors; Julie Nixon Eisenhower, chairman of the resource development committee; and Senator Christopher S. Bond, former Governor of Missouri, member of the board of directors. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.