March 22, 2004
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I applaud the purpose of this forum: education requires a bipartisan, visionary, and cooperative dialogue. Education must be placed above rancor, gamesmanship, or division. We must recognize that this is one area of public life that must foster common ground, conciliation, civility, and commitment. Such cooperation is the best action we can give to the state, to parents, and, most importantly, to our children.
Tonight I have been asked to offer comments appropriate for your dialogue. Well, I don't want to weigh in too much with the "Washington perspective." I don't want to presume too much.
But I can suggest several ideas that are part of the national dialogue or part of the dialogue in other states. These ideas are only suggestive and offered with respect for the context of the debate here in Texas.
First, in my view, there needs to be more attention to education as a primary social service, as a leading indicator or causal nexus to other services. In other words, we acknowledge that education is a key to addressing many social problems and therefore becomes a priority upon which other services are measured or anticipated. Success in education is perhaps the leading indicator to later utilization of other public services.
Let me give you an example. As you all know, Texas was hard hit by the oil shock of the 1970s. At that time there was much discussion about how to make Texas strong again. We knew the economy had to diversify. Down in Houston, where I was teaching and a dean at Texas Southern, community leaders realized we had to move away from our singular reliance on oil and attract new employers. At the same time, several large corporations that would have served as economic engines turned away from Houston and located their corporate offices elsewhere. Why? They said the quality of our schools was weak. We learned that the quality of the school system was a major factor in economic development. So we needed a good education system to attract businesses.
The combination of lost business opportunities and lack of inclusivity in education meant that the under-educated were more likely to need public services in the future. Those who were under-educated were more likely to need welfare, indigent health care, unemployment compensation, and other social services. In other words, the absence of a quality education was a causal reason for dependency on a variety of other services.
Let me amplify. Henry Gates, the chair of Harvard's African and African American Studies Department, has been conducting research in Chicago. He found that 45 percent of black men ages 20 to 24 in Chicago are out of school, most without a diploma of any kind. He found that even among those with a high school degree, a large percentage were functionally illiterate. So, without skills, trouble follows. One in five African American men in their 20s are in prison, on probation, or on parole. Single women head 69 percent of all African American households. Only 45 percent of African Americans 18 and older are gainfully employed.
According to Dr. Gates, a major reason for these conditions is the devaluation of black traditions, such as the historical priority of literacy and education.
I would agree with that assessment. But I would add one important element to his study. When we look at those left behind by American education, a disproportionate number are African American, Hispanic, special needs, second-language, or low income. The system silently ignores those most in need of help. Social promotion passes these students up and out, without actually addressing their needs. I believe we are watching an educational crisis that is proliferating. Only efforts to improve the quality of education and make it more equitable will reverse this trend. That is why national efforts like No Child Left Behind are so vital to the future of this country. The law will help make certain that minority, low-income, and special needs students receive a quality education that gives them skills, opportunities, and a future. The law requires a qualified teacher in every classroom. It makes education more successful and inclusive.
Knowing this, I offer a second suggestion: that we need to devote more attention to providing teachers with the resources they need.
For example, we can do more to train teachers. Nationwide, there is a teacher quality gap, where minority and special needs students are given a disproportionate share of new, unqualified, or under qualified teachers. Many districts are understaffed and have high turnover rates. I have urged school districts to improve hiring methods. Smart, creative recruiting methods by urban school districts can help by attracting many highly qualified candidates. But as many as 60 percent of these candidates withdraw because of delayed hiring deadlines. So I have urged reform in this area, too.
I believe a pressing need is to train teachers about what works and what doesn't. For such training, we need to devote much more time to educational research. Under No Child Left Behind, we are also working to use the best information in the classroom. We need such research, and it would be a powerful addition to our knowledge. Such research could make our schools and teachers better.
Our university education programs could be of great help in this area. Many university educational programs are stuck in a time warp. They teach the same stuff year-in, year-out. There is often more concern about philosophical consistency or political agendas than in discovering what works and what doesn't. Frankly, some departments still teach the same material as a generation ago, or longer. I am hopeful that the No Child Left Behind effort produces a sea-change in educational training, where research takes center-stage, helping future teachers learn how to reach their students and motivate them, not force-fit them into stereotypes, categories, and columns.
Ideally, research could become the driving force of change, with dynamic interactions between university students, teachers in the field, researchers, policy-makers, parents, school administrators, and students themselves. Education could become more exciting, relevant, and inspirational if we concentrate on learning more about our students.
One example of a successful effort is the Administration's "Reading First Program." The program is designed to help teachers learn about scientifically proven, successful methods for reading instruction. States have already received almost $1.9 billion for this initiative, as well as almost $150 million for early childhood reading efforts. In just two years, more than 45,000 teachers across the country have been trained. Students will receive better reading instruction because of this program.
A third suggestion is to make local and state education a dynamic community partnership. And I would strongly urge the business community to get more involved. One short- and long-term answer to outsourcing, the shift to a service economy, and a more diversified global economy is improvement in education. Too often, business absorbs higher costs because of remedial education training, low productivity, higher health care costs, on-the-job injuries, and other costs associated with an inadequate education. An investment in local or state education is a sound, wise investment in the company itself.
We knew this in Houston. We knew that a community response had to include accountability. There has been a long history of accountability in education, going back to the 1980s. A businessman, Charles Duncan, asked "How will we know of our children are learning?" How indeed! The result was the Perot Report, which was the foundation of the Texas accountability system. It resulted in House Bill 72, which has been in place through several generations of state leadership. It has received bipartisan support.
In fact, Texas has been at the forefront of accountability efforts, even now. I have followed with considerable interest Chancellor Mark Yudoff's efforts to introduce accountability measures in higher education in the University of Texas system. Such measures are important for improving the quality of education, but they also appeal to the community itself. Taxpayers want to know that they money is not wasted. Parents want to know that resources are well used.
The dialogue we had about accountability gave us much more contact with the business community. We asked corporations to become a partner with us. We even invited representatives from the business community to audit our books, offer suggestions to cut waste, and help develop a better managed educational system. We looked to the Houston Business Advisory Committee and the Greater Houston Partnership for assistance. We solicited 19 peer review reports from the business community, the legal community, transportation experts, and many other groups interested in educational improvement and community development. Some of you probably remember those reports by Al Haines and others. We worked with auditors, such as the State Controller, to discover what worked and what did not. State Senator John Whitmire was instrumental in providing leadership from the legislature. We invited examination by top educational scholars around the country, which resulted in a conference coordinated by Don McAdams titled "Making the Grade," held in Houston in 2000. All of these efforts were initiated to gather facts, discuss recommendations, and assess feedback in the operation of the school district.
And parents need to be at the core of reform efforts. In Houston, we began a comprehensive parental involvement program, including the creation of 20 Reconnect Centers. Based on information from the Sharp Report, we knew that parental involvement was low. So we made involvement a high priority.
Many of you will remember all of this, because we were close partners statewide. The level of community involvement was extremely high. For every action we received broad-based community input. I said then that "HISD is the community" and that public schools are for "the public in the district." We had a close working relationship that benefited every student.
By any measuring stick, in a few short years, we turned the corner and turned the district around. Together, we made a striking difference. The Broad Foundation and many others recognized our efforts in Houston. And despite the attempts by some in the media in New York and elsewhere to denigrate our progress, often for political reasons, student scores did rise and crime did drop. Our reforms worked. Our community did come together for our children.
Such efforts here in Texas would fit in very nicely with national reform efforts, which after all are based on your good work here. The President has continued to make reform a national priority. Passage of No Child Left Behind is a milestone in educational reform. And now federal educational funding itself is larger than any previous administration. For example, in the President's 2005 budget, funding for education would be $57.3 billion, an increase of 36 percent since 2001.
Contrary to some reports, there is much flexibility built into No Child Left Behind. This is not a "one size fits all" law. There are important provisions that allow state and local governments to shift other federal education money to meet their particular needs at the local level.
And the Administration has been working on regulatory actions that will help state and local school districts. Since passage, I have worked on a timeline to utilize the flexibility in the law, while at the same time holding states accountable. This is a balancing effort, and that process of balanced policy development is often missed or misunderstood.
For example, I recently announced that some special needs students would be allowed to take a test that matches their abilities, thereby allowing states to meet statutory requirements and best serve the needs of these most challenged students. States can work with the department to make the special education regulations best fit within their own system.
In addition, I have announced new policies for English-language learners. Our new policy provides a much-needed one-year transition for our schools for new second-language students. This change allows schools one more year to prepare these students to learn in English. It benefits both students and schools. And, under the new policy, schools can continue to count these students toward the "Adequate Yearly Progress" measurement for two additional years after they have become English proficient. Two weeks ago, I announced regulations concerning same-sex classes and schools, making it easier for schools to offer a single-sex environment. It gives students and parents more choices. Schools need to have the option. If parents and schools believe a single-sex environment will help their children learn, then they should be able to exercise that choice.
And, last week I announced a new policy about highly qualified teachers that will help clarify any confusion and give even more flexibility to state and local officials. It will now be easier for teachers to demonstrate that they have the subject expertise so critical to teach America's youth.
I realize that reform is a controversial enterprise. I have experienced some of that controversy. And I understand its source. After all, we are talking about the education of our children. We should be passionate, concerned, and protective. We should carefully examine reform proposals.
But we should not be afraid to make improvements when needed and justified. We should have the courage to act, and to act together. Education should be a bi-partisan effort. We should not play politics with our children's lives and futures. We must keep faith in ourselves, in our work, and in each other.
We must keep our focus on the children themselves. In December, I gave a speech in Washington. Two children walked up to me. They were special needs children going to school in Virginia. They felt that their education had improved because of No Child Left Behind. They just wanted to thank me.
That's what this is all about. This is what we want. Every single child who receives a better education is a child who will have a future full of opportunities. And, as usual, I am convinced that Texas will lead us into that future. That is why I am so delighted to spend this time with you.