November 11, 2005
Contacts: Samara Yudof, Chad Colby|
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today honored the nation's No Child Left Behind—Blue Ribbon Schools for 2005 at a ceremony at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Va.
The No Child Left Behind—Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors schools that have either placed in the top 10 percent of the state in test scores or that have at least 40 percent economically disadvantaged students and have shown dramatic improvement in their test scores over three years.
A list of all 296 No Child Left Behind—Blue Ribbon Schools for 2005 is available at http://www.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs/2005/index.html. For more information about the Blue Ribbon Schools program, visit http://www.ed.gov/programs/nclbbrs/index.html.
Following are Secretary Spellings' prepared remarks (Note: speaker sometimes deviates from text):
Thank you, David [Dunn]. It's an honor to be here with all of you today. Congratulations! I hope my daughter in public school always has teachers and principals like you all.
I get asked all the time to point to places that are closing the achievement gap and proving we can leave no child behind. The fact is they're all over the country – both public and private schools in all different zip codes and all kinds of neighborhoods. And your schools are leading the way by shining the light on strategies that work for all students.
I know it hasn't been an easy journey to the top. It's taken a lot of hard work and probably cost you a lot of sleep. President Bush likes to say being an educator is more than a job. It's a calling. And I want to thank all of you for answering that call. Of the more than 120,000 public and private schools in the country, just 296 are Blue Ribbon schools. Every one of you has overcome challenges and beaten the odds to be here.
The journey has been particularly tough for those of you from the Gulf Coast region. Seven of our new Blue Ribbon award winners were severely damaged in the recent hurricanes.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed Wayne Rodolfich's home in Pascagoula, Mississippi and washed away everything he owned except for two shirts and two pairs of shorts. But as the district's superintendent, he didn't have time to think about himself. Over half of the schools in the district were flooded, and two were destroyed. He worked around the clock with his maintenance team to get students back to school as quickly as possible.
And when he learned two schools in his district—Pascagoula High School and Gautier High School, where he used to serve as principal—had won Blue Ribbon awards, nothing was going to stop him from being here today. Not floodwaters, not exhaustion, and not even a fear of flying. The only other airplane he's ever been on was Elvis Presley's plane in Memphis, Tennessee. And as he puts it, "I knew that one wasn't taking off."
We're honored to have you here today, and thanks for making the trip. You've earned it. And nothing can take that away from you.
I also want to thank Pass Christian High School Principal Cathy Broadway for being here today. There's not much left standing in Pass Christian, Mississippi – just slabs marking where houses and buildings used to be. Katrina destroyed three of the four schools in town, including the high school's state-of-the-art building.
But building or no building, students and teachers at Pass Christian High were determined to go back to school. Last month, President and Mrs. Bush and I went down to celebrate the reopening of the school. The collection of portable classrooms doesn't look much like the old school from the outside. But students and teachers at Pass Christian High still have the same high expectations. And in front of the portables is a big banner that reads: National Blue Ribbon School.
As Principal Broadway will tell you, it's not the building that makes a Blue Ribbon School. It's the students and teachers. And it's a commitment to doing whatever it takes to provide all children with a quality education – no matter their race, income, or zip code.
For our country to remain at the top, we must provide education and opportunity for all. Hurricane Katrina was a devastating reminder of this. As President Bush observed, Katrina visited "some of the greatest hardship… upon citizens already facing lives of struggle—the elderly, the vulnerable, and the poor." Their plight has roots in decades of inequality and indifference.
Education can—and will—break the cycle of poverty. It's the key to making sure that every single child has the chance to realize the American dream.
That's why four years ago we made an unprecedented commitment to close the achievement gap by 2014 and ensure all children receive a quality education. To many people, it was revolutionary. Some said impossible. But to you, it was nothing new. You've been helping children fight the "soft bigotry of low expectations" throughout your professional lives. Where many people see an impossible challenge, you see opportunity and hope.
And thanks to No Child Left Behind, we're learning what you've always known: With a quality education and high expectations, every child can and will achieve high standards. That's why we're asking states to annually assess students and then break down the results by student groups so we can be sure all students are getting ahead.
We're seeing this commitment to higher standards and accountability pay off across the country. The latest state-by-state Nation's Report Card, or NAEP, came out just a few weeks ago, and it shows we're on the right track. The scores keep rising as our country grows more diverse. More minority students are catching up to their peers than ever before. In the last two years, the number of fourth graders who learned fundamental math skills increased by 116,000—that's enough to fill almost 250 elementary schools!
As I like to say, "In God we trust—all others bring data." And with this data, we can see we're moving in the right direction. Scores are rising; the achievement gap is closing; and No Child Left Behind is working.
That's a credit to you and your students. We're not holding class at the U.S. Department of Education. I know the hard work of educating children happens in your classrooms. It's happening every day at schools like Rock Hall Elementary in Maryland where 100 percent of third graders met state standards in math and every fourth grader met state standards in reading. All of your schools are proving that we can close the achievement gap and provide every child with a quality education. Give yourselves a hand. You're an inspiration to us all.
We have the data on what you've achieved, and now we want to put a human face on your success so we can share your stories with schools across the country. If you'd be interested in participating, please e-mail email@example.com, and we'll be in touch with you. Your schools are lighthouses helping us all find the way. And we want educators around the country to have the chance to learn from your example.
We still have a lot more work to do. Parents need to understand this isn't the same world we grew up in. In today's global economy, what you know means far more than where you live. And all too often, our children aren't keeping up with the competition.
China now graduates more engineers than the United States, Japan, and Germany combined. As a result, U.S. high-tech companies are seeking employees abroad, not just because they can be paid less but also because they are often more skilled and more motivated. These companies are not just following the money. They're also following the brains. As Tom Friedman says in his bestseller The World Is Flat, our students are facing an education gap and an ambition gap, and they're on the losing side.
We must close these gaps. We've already seen what a difference high standards and accountability have made for our younger students. Now we must extend those same principles to our high schools. That's why President Bush and I support high school reform that focuses on core subjects like reading, math, and science—to help more students graduate ready for college or work.
About 80 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require postsecondary education, yet a recent study from ACT found that less than half of high school students graduate ready for college-level math and science. We can and must do better than this!
The Blue Ribbon high schools here today are doing better than this. Much better! Across the country, only about one in ten Hispanic Americans has a college degree, but high schools like the Science Academy of South Texas are changing those numbers. The school serves a mostly low-income community in the Rio Grande Valley. Two-thirds of the students are Hispanic, and teachers have high expectations for all of them. Students take rigorous schedules full of college-level courses. Principal Edward Argueta says he hears former students say college is easy by comparison. Maybe that's why 95 percent of his students go to four-year colleges, and more than 90 percent go on to graduate from college.
All our students should have this same opportunity. It's the heart of the American dream. And as Blue Ribbon winners, your schools are blazing the path for all of us to follow.
We know the formula: high standards and accountability for results. And we know it works. You prove it every day. And you should be proud.
Thanks again for being here today. And congratulations!
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