Public Papers

Remarks at the University of Virginia Convocation in Charlottesville


Governor Baliles. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, as you may have noticed during the course of this unprecedented education summit, Virginia law and tradition oblige us to publicly invoke the name of Thomas Jefferson at least once or twice an hour. [Laughter] There are worse habits.

Mr. President, it has been an interesting, sometimes provocative gathering. You asked the Governors to be candid, and I think we've fulfilled that request -- perhaps beyond your fondest hopes. [Laughter] I would also say, however, that you gave as good as you got. But these are times for candor and outspoken self-examination. These are times for us to open our eyes and our minds and face the facts. The world has changed more than we sometimes would prefer. The challenges, both internally and externally, are profound and difficult. And, frankly, we have not made it easy for ourselves.

Within the last decade, immense Federal budget deficits have accumulated with resulting declines in domestic spending, including education. We need not assign blame, but we ought to acknowledge that the Federal budget situation has left the States increasingly on their own to address not only education but also health care, transportation, law enforcement, and other pressing concerns. Indeed, the Federal budget deficits have been the backdrop to the education summit stage. The Federal deficits confine our flexibility, limit our options, and explain our shared reluctance to discuss financial resources. To be sure, in recent years the States have stepped into the breach. Imaginative and innovative programs have been created and funded by Governors and State legislators determined not to let the red ink in Washington inhibit the potential of our people in their enterprise.

But has it been enough? Has the renaissance of State governments yielded a renewed competitive America? The evidence says no. Indeed, it may be said of the American Federal system of government that the whole remains less than the sum of the parts. Education is one example, but not the only one. In other words, if we are to take on education as a nation, we had better get all the parts in accord and pulling together. And you, Mr. President, have taken a valuable and important step in that direction.

Up to this point, Mr. Jefferson's preference for locally administered education has prevailed. We will not depart from that model entirely. States and localities will continue to provide more than 90 percent of the funding and the preponderance of the direction and supervision.

And yet, there is a Federal role to be more clearly defined, supported, and sustained. In response to international economic competition, a consensus has emerged for an American national resolve. The Jeffersonian belief that education is the first, best hope for our republic's enduring success has not diminished. We have simply discovered that, as the times change, so must our ideas. That may be the finest result of this education summit: that we have begun, State and Federal governments together, to think anew our respective roles and to address education for the first time as a nation undivided.

Mr. President, you have a loyal ally to support your efforts in the person of the new chairman of the National Governors' Association. It is my pleasure to introduce my friend and the distinguished Governor of the State of Iowa, Terry Branstad.

Governor Branstad. Thank you, Governor Baliles. Mr. President, First Lady Barbara Bush, members of the Cabinet, fellow Governors and their spouses, President O'Neil and Mrs. O'Neil, and members of the University of Virginia community: It is indeed appropriate that this education summit be held here amidst this historic setting. On behalf of the Governors and their spouses, we want to thank the faculty, administration, and students for hosting us here at this beautiful University of Virginia campus. And I hope we haven't disrupted your class schedules too much the last couple of days. [Laughter]

With this historic education summit, the President and the Governors have taken an important first step in the process of developing for the first time a national consensus for educational goals. We are discussing some of the most critical issues facing America today -- that is, the state of education. Our discussions underscore the breadth and depth and the complexity of the issues that we face. We believe that this summit can serve as a catalyst for change and improvement in American education.

But we know that we can't do it alone. Not even the President of the United States and the Congress, each Governor and their legislature can cause the kind of changes that we want. We have to have the involvement of the people who are directly affected, the people who can assure that we get results for America's children. These are the teachers, the parents, local school administrators and school board members, students, business leaders, leaders in their communities -- people who care deeply about American education. Only with the commitment of all of these people and with their cooperation and help can we be successful in attaining the goals that we hope to agree upon.

Governors recognize that this is a time for results. We are working hard to achieve results in our States -- results like better student performances on math, science, and foreign language tests; lower dropout rates and higher graduation rates; improved adult literacy; skilled and productive workers for the jobs of the 21st century.

To get the results we want, we have to hold our education system accountable and give educators the flexibility they need to do their job. It is time to find new measures of performance based on what students know and what students can do, not just the number of classes that they complete in high school or college. It is time for more flexibility in the use of Federal dollars, and better coordination and cooperation among all levels of government and the different agencies of the Federal Government and State governments. We need to better serve the needs of American families and American schools.

On behalf of the Nation's Governors, we thank you, Mr. President, for convening this historic summit, for the process that you have started and for our opportunity to help achieve significant goals that will get results for future generations of Americans.

And now I have the privilege of introducing the Secretary of Education for the United States. Lauro Cavazos was appointed by President Reagan in 1988 as U.S. Secretary of Education. He was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate, and before that, he had a distinguished career as president of Texas Tech University. And I'm pleased to say he also has a Ph.D. from Iowa State. Lauro Cavazos, Secretary of Education.

Secretary Cavazos. Thank you, Governor. Thank you. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It's my distinct pleasure to be here today as we continue this historic education summit. The decisions we make will affect the lives of millions of children in the United States, and it is for those children and the future of this country that we are here. President Bush has pledged his support for education and the need to restructure our educational system, and it is an honor now for me to introduce the President of the United States, George Bush.

The President. Thank you all very much. Thank you, Secretary Cavazos. Thank you, Governors. Thank you, Dr. Cavazos -- Secretary Cavazos. First, my respects to all the Governors here, and I want to thank -- the music of that Air Force Band, just lovely. Thank you for your performance. I want to thank Governor Baliles and Governor Branstad and so many others who had a very special role. I want to thank President O'Neil and Mrs. O'Neil. It was only yesterday that I discovered that we had evicted them from the president's house. [Laughter] And not only did they go peacefully, but they left me this necktie from Eljo's, which I'm sure some of you may recognize. You talk about Virginia hospitality. [Laughter] And I also want to pay my respects to the students and especially to the distinguished faculty of this great institution.

And for Barbara and me it's a delight to be back in Charlottesville. Imagine this: You have a President, the Cabinet, America's Governors all visiting your school. And the big man on the campus -- still Sean Moore. [Laughter] But, you see, we're somewhat familiar -- our son Marvin and our daughter-in-law Margaret, having gone here, both advising me to be humble while I'm at U. Hall. You see, they told me you only do the wave for Ralph Sampson. [Laughter]

Now, it's easy to keep your perspective and be humble at a school so rich in history and in educational endeavor. And I've also been deeply impressed by the commitment, the creativity, and the knowledge that my fellow chief executives bring here to this education reform agenda. In our meetings yesterday, I learned exactly how much you care about the children of your States and the future. And in short, I came to Charlottesville with high expectations, and I've got to say you have exceeded them. So, the spirit of our summit is not, ``Who will get the credit?'' -- the spirit of this summit is, ``How can we get results?'' We are here to put progress before partisanship, the future before the moment, and our children before ourselves.

I've heard eloquent advice from many of you, and from so many others, in the last few weeks. And I've listened, and I am deeply appreciative of all that I have learned. But I've also learned that we should listen to our children. And they have much to tell us. In many ways, they are the luckiest generation in history. Just last month, our children observed, in the clarity of Voyager's sight, the horizons of new worlds, the majesty of space. And think what these images would have meant to the ever-curious founder of this university, who could only look through a primitive telescope at faint patches of light and wonder.

But our children are growing up in an age where wonder is commonplace, peace and prosperity often taken for granted. And our children are also the beneficiaries of a nation that lavishes unsurpassed resources on their schooling. So, in many ways we're close to fulfilling the Enlightenment dream of universal education, a dream that became a reality in the shadows of the Shenandoahs here at Mr. Jefferson's school.

And every step we take at this university is truly a walk in Thomas Jefferson's footsteps. When he first charted the ground on which we gather today, there was just a field of grass, a horizon limited only by the blue mountains beyond. But Jefferson surveyed a horizon that no one else could see. He saw the graceful dome of the Rotunda, the elegance of the Lawn and its pavilions. He saw meeting rooms and libraries and lecture halls teeming with professors, students yet unborn. Jefferson set out to fashion his rarified vision into solid reality, brick by brick, book by book. And it is his university, and his dream, that inspires us today to follow in his footsteps. As President O'Neil said, Thomas Jefferson, our first education president, was a relentless advocate for universal public education. ``He had a fundamental conviction that on the good sense of an educated citizenry, we could build and defend a country of liberty and justice.''

I borrowed those words -- this assessment -- from a friend of mine, another Renaissance man of our time, the late Bartlett Giamatti. Like Jefferson, his life was a metaphor for civility and public service. And it is this commitment to public service that we must carry on. So, let us make this an education society.

We have already come close to this Jeffersonian ideal. Our educational system is, in many ways, unrivaled in its scale and its diversity, in its commitment to meeting special needs and individual differences. And we're inspired by our best teachers, who give more than we can rightly expect, and from our best students, who surpass our highest expectations. And yet, after two centuries of progress, we are stagnant. While millions of Americans read for pleasure, millions of others don't read at all. And while millions go to college, millions may never graduate from high school.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress estimates that fewer than one in four of our high school juniors can write an adequate, persuasive letter. And only half can manage decimals, fractions, and percentages. And barely one in three can locate the Civil War in the correct half-century. No modern nation can long afford to allow so many of its sons and daughters to emerge into adulthood ignorant and unskilled. The status quo is a guarantee of mediocrity, social decay, and national decline.

Education is our most enduring legacy, vital to everything that we are and can become. And come the next century, just 10 years away, what will we be? Will we be the children of the Enlightenment, or its orphans?

Six years ago, the Committee on Excellence in Education issued its powerful report; and yet today, our nation is still at risk. The educational reform movement has done well in articulating its criticisms, and now it is time to define goals. This is the time for action. I sent my proposals for Federal action in education to Congress last spring, including an increase in funding for Head Start. The Educational Excellence Act of 1989 includes ways to reshape and expand Federal efforts, to recognize excellence, lift the needy, foster flexibility and choice, and measure and reward progress. I remain solidly committed to these principles, and I value your advice and ideas as we continue to refine the Federal role.

Some offer a completely different answer: Spend more money alone. And at the Federal level, we have asked Congress to provide nearly a half a billion dollars in new funding for 10 worthy programs. Your States may also choose to spend more. But to those who say that money alone is the answer, I say that there is no one answer. If anything, hard experience teaches that we are simply not getting our money's worth in education. Our focus must no longer be on resources. It must be on results.

And this is only the third time in our 200 years as a nation that a President has called a summit with the Governors. And I've called you together because you bear the constitutional responsibility for education. And I didn't ask you to such an historic occasion merely to bemoan what is wrong. We are here to work, and work together, to once again make an American education the best in the world.

And let me say to the Governors before this majestic audience: These sessions have been informative and thoughtful and very useful to me. And I appreciate the obvious extensive preparations that the Governors have undertaken in the days and weeks leading up to this summit. The Governors have emphasized to me the need for national performance goals and the importance of greater flexibility in the use of Federal funds, while accepting enhanced accountability for the results. And they've also stressed the high priority that helping prepare preschool children should have in Federal spending, even in time of fiscal constraint.

And finally, the Governors have articulated eloquently the need to restructure our education system. You already are consulting with State legislators to better our schools. Our teachers already are giving their heart and soul to their jobs. But we've never before worked together -- President and principal, Governor and teacher -- to achieve results in education.

A social compact begins today in Charlottesville, Virginia -- a compact between parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, State legislators, Governors, and the administration. Our compact is founded not on promises but on challenges -- each one a radical departure from tradition. I hope that you will join me to define national goals in education for the first time. From this day forward, let us be an America of tougher standards, of higher goals, and a land of bigger dreams.

Our goals must be national, not Federal. That's why I welcome the initiatives of the National Governors' Association, from the Time for Results report in 1986 to the goal-setting project recently begun under the leadership of Iowa's Terry Branstad, South Carolina's Carroll Campbell, Washington's Booth Gardner, Bill Clinton of Arkansas. And my administration will work with you to build on the National Assessment Program's first State-by-State achievement results. We will work with you to formulate national goals, and then we're going to challenge superintendents and principals to meet these higher goals. In return, I accept your challenge and will work with you to loosen the grip of Federal restrictions. How many great ideas, how many grand and noble experiments have been impaled on the narrow spike of a Federal directive? Unnecessary restriction is the enemy of the bold. And bold action is what we need most of all.

I ask Congress to allow Washington to be more flexible by passing reform legislation. And I ask you, in turn, to ease State restrictions on local bodies. And then we'll judge our efforts not by our intentions but by our results. So, to get results, we need national goals and more flexibility from Federal and State government. To get results, we will need a new spirit of competition between students, between teachers, and between schools -- a report card for all. And to get results, we will need discipline, structure, and goals.

And yet, I do not counsel a naive nostalgia, some tame adherence to the past. Business as usual is not getting us where we need to go. So, when hallowed tradition proves to be hollow convention, then we must shatter tradition. The polls show what every PTA board member already knows: The American people are ready for radical reforms. We must not disappoint them.

For myself, I envision tradition-shattering reform in five areas. First, I see the day when every student is literate. But literacy should mean more than the ``three R's.'' We must be a reading nation. We must grapple with the hard sciences. And because education is as spiritual as it is practical, our children must know why Americans died at Bunker Hill, at Gettysburg, and at Monte Cassino. And they must do more than identify names on a multiple choice question. They must understand the generosity of Andrew Carnegie and the genius of Alexander Graham Bell and the heroism of Rosa Parks. Some youngsters will naturally take longer than others, and some will need more study and extra instruction. But we should never send a student from school to school just because he or she has passed an arbitrary birthday.

Second, I see a day when our educational system will be unafraid of diversity. Of course, all schools in a State will share a core curriculum and minimum standards of achievement, but the means by which that curriculum is taught and those goals met should be as diverse and varied as America itself. Let them blend, in myriad ways, the traditional and the modern, the human and the technological. Let us give our schools and our teachers the freedom to do what they do best.

Children also differ in their interests and learning styles and capabilities. And so, third, I see the day when choice among schools will be the norm rather than the exception, when parents will be full partners in the education of their children. Too many parents have come to see education as a service we can hand over to the school boards in much the same way we expect our cities to provide electricity or water. But education is not a utility, not something to be delegated. Education is a way of life. And educational reform is an urgent responsibility for every parent, every student, every community. And those who do not advance the cause of education hinder it. Parents, students, and professional educators must be accountable to one another as a community.

But to be accountable, we need to know just how much progress we're making. So, fourth, I see the day when we use accurate assessments, carefully linked to our educational goals. We need to first know where we are, and this means accepting the bad news along with the good. We've always measured our progress against our past performance. We must now evaluate ourselves on a tougher grading curve, one that includes the other major industrial nations. And accountability also means we must act on what we discover. Weak performance in the classroom or the principal's office will no longer be tolerated. But neither will indifference towards good educators. Society has no greater benefactors than outstanding teachers and principals. And so, let them have their day in the sun, get what they deserve -- generous praise and solid rewards.

Fifth, I see an educational system that never settles for the minimum, in academics or in behavior. Decades of research bear out what the best teachers already know: When standard and expectations are high, everyone does better. And this includes both the unusually gifted and those with special needs and disabilities, but it must also include the student we too often forget, the average student. All you guys with C's -- I want to hear it from you. For I do believe that with a little care and a little work we can unleash within each of these so-called ordinary kids an extraordinary potential. This same potential can be found within every disadvantaged child, those from troubled neighborhoods, children for whom our schools must be a beacon of excellence, a sanctuary from violence, a model of good character, sound values, exemplary ethics. Let no child in America be forgotten or forsaken.

Some of our reforms and experiments are sure to come up short. But for too many of our schools, experimentation is preferable to the status quo, because the status quo could scarcely be worse. The worthy and the useful will win out only if we give our schools the freedom that they need. And such freedom will not lead to a quick and easy solution. It's the work of years. And we've taken such a long-term view in our meetings over the last couple of days.

We've discussed the need for educational reform in terms of our national competitiveness -- you heard Governor Baliles refer to that just a minute ago. But I'm sure you agree that there is more to learning than just our trade balance or the graying of our work force. It is broader than the important, but narrow, compass of economics and government. A scholar once wrote that great books are not lifeless paper but minds alive on the shelves. And he observed that just as the touch of a button on a stereo will fill a room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space and hear him speak -- mind to mind, heart to heart.

As a nation, we can again hear these voices, feel this enchantment, every time a parent reads a bedtime story to a sleepy child, every time a young scholar turns to the great books. The day must come when every young American can know the life of the mind. I might say parenthetically that is why my wife, Barbara, for many years has devoted a lot of her time to making this country more literate.

In essence, that is why we've gathered here at Mr. Jefferson's school. He was just one man, but look at what one man can do. Imagine what we can do, if we -- more than 50 strong -- are united by this great cause. So let us dream, and let us talk. And if need be let us argue, but in the end let us walk together on a journey to enlightenment, in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson. Thank you for your hard work and dedication. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 11:56 a.m. at University Hall. In his remarks, he referred to University of Virginia football player Sean Moore, former University of Virginia basketball player Ralph Sampson, and former baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti.