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Remarks by Secretary Spellings at National Association of Manufacturers Meeting in DC
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FOR RELEASE:
September 28, 2005
Contacts: Susan Aspey, Samara Yudof
(202) 401-1576

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings delivered the following remarks today at the National Association of Manufacturers Board of Directors Meeting in Washington, D.C. Speaker may deviate from prepared text.

Education in an Ever-Flattening World

Thank you Ursula, and thanks to Chairman John Luke, President John Engler, and my good friend Sandy Boyd for inviting me. During the last few weeks I've made several visits to the Gulf Coast. We've all witnessed both terrible destruction and heart-warming acts of generosity—including by your members, who have volunteered in droves and donated millions to the relief effort. I am particularly gratified by the schools across our country that are enrolling hundreds of thousands of displaced students. But I'm not surprised; educators are simply showing America once again what a treasure they truly are.

I met a teacher last Friday in Houston who talked about how this has been an opportunity to give back and grow. I heard about a kindergartener in Dallas who was walking down the hall when he doubled back toward the classroom. His teacher asked where he was going. He said he was going to get his backpack and lunch box. The teacher told him not to worry, his things would be there when they got back. And this little 5-year-old boy looked up at his teacher and said, "You just never know."

After the pictures we've all seen on television, and the looks on these children's faces, one thing I know for sure is that these young people need and deserve a quality education. In fact, we're having what educators call "a teachable moment."

What is a teachable moment? It's an opportunity to learn from and act on the moment you're in. Katrina is a potent reminder to all of us that every single one of our children must be given the opportunity to learn and the chance to share in the American dream.

I hope the tragedy of Katrina drives this point home. As a nation, it is our moral obligation to leave no child behind.

If Katrina shows us anything, it shows how vulnerable we are. In fact, Tom Friedman's latest bestseller, The World Is Flat, spotlights some challenges to our future. Many of Friedman's points about America's waning competitiveness speak directly to education, and I want to highlight a few of these.

But there's also one passage I want to address head on. That's the page where Friedman chides political leaders for too often downplaying the challenges of foreign competition. It's hard to have a national strategy to stay competitive, he says, if "people won't even acknowledge that there is an education gap emerging and that there is an ambition gap emerging and that we are in a quiet crisis."

Well, I agree and I'll say it: There is an education gap. And we are on a mission to close it.

I know you and all those in the private sector are acutely aware of the demands of our flattening world. Alan Greenspan has spoken at length on the need to "adapt our educational system to the evolving needs of the economy."

Your leadership even went so far as to title your 2005 Labor Day Report, "The Looming Workforce Crisis."

As the international playing field becomes flatter, our students need better education and training to compete. Manufacturing executives rank a "high-performing workforce" as the most important factor in their firms' future success. But how can you be a high-performing worker when you don't even have a high school diploma?

If you're not scared yet, take a look at our high school graduation rates. Among ninth-graders, five out of 10 minority students fail to finish high school on time. Overall, three out of 10 ninth-graders don't finish on time.

Would we tolerate three out of every 10 heart surgeries failing? Would we tolerate three out of every 10 products not working right? Then why is three out of 10 kids dropping out of high school OK with us?

Leaving our high school students behind is not only morally unacceptable, what the President calls "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It is also economically untenable. Studies show the staggering cost of high school dropouts. In addition to lost earnings for the individual, consider the cost to society.

The one million students who drop out of high school each year cost our nation more than $260 billion dollars. That's in lost wages, lost taxes, and lost productivity over their lifetimes. That equals the combined 2004 earnings of DuPont and Delphi and Intel and Verizon and Xerox and IBM! You and I know this is more than just bad for business, it's also bad for the future of our country's economy.

When you lose a million students every year that has a tremendous impact on our economy. And it represents the American Dream ... denied.

So I would suggest, for this and a host of other reasons, that how well our students are doing is not just an "education issue." It's also an economic issue, a civic issue, a social issue, and a national security issue. And ... it's everybody's issue.

Now that we've identified the problem, the question is, what are we doing about it? With No Child Left Behind, President Bush and the Congress led our nation in a historic commitment to give every child a quality education.

We said we will close the achievement gap by 2014 ... across the board. With states measuring our children's progress each year in reading and math, and by focusing on each student, and on each group of students, we can discover where they need help before it's too late.

We now have proof that high standards and accountability are paying off. Scores are at all-time highs for African-American and Hispanic students, especially in the early grades. We've made more progress in the last five years than in the previous 30 combined.

We're on the right track. I see it in places like Garden Grove, Calif., a largely urban district where 75 percent of the students do not speak English and where nearly 60 percent are poor, and all but two of the district's 67 schools met or exceeded the goals of No Child Left Behind. How did they do it? Superintendent Laura Schwalm says, "We do it one kid at a time. We use No Child Left Behind to set the targets we want to hit. We align all our actions and resources to hit those targets. And we believe the kids can do it."

In Pueblo, Colo., where the poorest schools posted a 20-point gain in fourth-grade reading scores since they started testing every year, Superintendent Joyce Bales says, "Anybody can do what we're doing. It's easier to complain and whine than it is to do this hard work. We work hard. We work hard all the time."

But you and I know that hard work alone isn't going to get us where we need to be. Just like your CEO Governor John Engler said last month, "U.S. manufacturing will no longer employ millions in low-skill jobs. Tomorrow's jobs will go to those with education in science, engineering and math and to those with high-skill technical training." Governor, I could not agree more.

And while I'm pleased by the progress we're making in the early grades, I am by no means satisfied. Our nation's education report card has shown no progress for high school students in 30 years. In fourth grade, America's students are holding their own against global competitors. But by 12th grade they fall behind, especially in math and science.

Clearly, it's time to focus on improving high schools. That's why the president and I are supporting high school reform that focuses on reading, math and science—to help more of our students reach the finish line on time and ready for college or work. We are also working to make sure more high school teachers are trained to teach the rigorous courses that help students succeed in college.

In our global economy, 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs will require education or training beyond high school. Just this week, I announced a Commission on the Future of Higher Education to ask some of the vital questions we're facing in that arena.

For example, how can we ensure that college is affordable and accessible? And while we have a fine higher education system, will it be adequate for our future?

It's time for a vigorous public debate about higher education in America, and I look forward to the commission's findings next summer.

The more technology levels the playing field, the more critical postsecondary education becomes. You know this because you're living it. Thirty years ago, a majority of manufacturing workers did not have high school diplomas. Today, not only do most of them have high school diplomas, almost one-third have studied at the college level.

The problem is, not enough people understand how important this is. One of the parts I like best about Tom Friedman's book is what he calls the "dirty little secrets": the ambition gap, the numbers gap, and the education gap. These secrets matter to business leaders and educators alike, and they certainly matter to those of us who have children. Parents must understand that their children will need math skills to succeed in the 21st century.

Friedman says, "Compared with the young, energetic Indians and Chinese, too many Americans have gotten too lazy." The numbers gap refers to the fact that we are simply not producing enough engineers and scientists. And the education gap means that U.S. high-tech companies are seeking employees abroad, not just because they can pay them less, but also because they are more skilled and more motivated. In other words, they're not following the money, they're following the brains. So the first thing all of us need to realize is that this is not the same world we grew up in.

As a nation, we have no more important task than to help our children develop academic skills, and character, and a little ambition if we are going to succeed in this flattening world. I know I can count on you to continue speaking loudly and clearly about the need for continued reform, especially in our high schools and especially in math and science.

I don't know if you've been to the post office lately and seen the new stamps. But it got me thinking. Here we have a series on our favorite Disney characters. We all love Snow White and Dopey, Mickey Mouse and Pluto!

Then there's another new series called "American Scientists"—portraits of a famous geneticist, physicist, and thermodynamicist. Name that scientist, anyone?!

Today, there is no Sputnik to galvanize the nation into action, but Katrina has! This tragedy is a wake-up call, and people from every part of our country are responding. The N.A.M. and Monster.com are helping hurricane victims find jobs. Educators are opening their hearts and their schools to displaced children. And the U.S. Department of Education is working to increase our investment from 9 to 90 percent to help students and schools get through this extraordinary year.

But the long-term solution is to make sure that every member of our rising generation has the education and skills to succeed in the 21st century. The education gap, the achievement gap—the quiet crisis—will cast a very long shadow over our future if we do not summon the will to stay competitive. And competitiveness begins with education.

We know the cure. We can do this! High standards with measured results. High expectations. Quality curriculum. Great teaching. Parental focus. Business community focus.

This is our mandate and our mission, and it's also the right thing to do. Our children and our country deserve no less.

Thank you very much.

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Last Modified: 09/28/2005