REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE OWENSBORO COMMUNITY
Audubon Elementary School
12:10 P.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. I am delighted
tosee you all here. I think we should give Karen Cecil another round
ofapplause. She did a great job, didn't she? (Applause.)
SuperintendentSilberman, you might just put her on the road as an advertising
I'm delighted to be here with all of you. I want to thank
GovernorPatton and Judi Patton for, first of all, for many years of friendship
andsupport, and for your truly magnificent leadership in this state. I
haveserved -- I was a governor for 12 years, and I have served with over
150governors. And since I've been President eight years, I guess I've
knownabout 100 or so more. So I have some experience in this. He's one of
thebest I've ever seen, and I thank him very much. (Applause.) Thank you.
I thank your Lt. Governor, Steve Henry, for being here. And
mylongtime friend and also fellow former colleague, John Y. Brown, thank
you,Governor, for coming. I'm glad to see you. And Senator Wendell Ford
andJean, I'm glad to see you. We miss you in Washington. I had to be
funnySaturday night -- they don't laugh enough since you came home.
(Laughterand applause.) And we miss you.
I want to thank Attorney General Chandler and Treasurer Miller,
andSpeaker Richards for being here, and the other state legislators who
arehere. And, Mayor Morris, thank you for welcoming me, along with the
CityCouncil. And I thank the Board of Education for their good work. I wantto
thank the AmeriCorps volunteers who are here for the work they do in theAmerica
Reads program. And thank you, Superintendent Silberman, and thankyou, Diane
Embry, for the work you do.
I've been in so many schools over the last 20 years, I can be
in onefor five minutes, and know whether it's doing well or not. And there are
alot of rules, and you heard some of them today, but one of the things
thatDiane Embry did not say is that you nearly never have a good school
unlessyou've got a great principal. And it's obvious that you've got a
greatprincipal here. (Applause.)
And I'd like to thank the bands who played. And most of all,
I'd liketo thank Crystal Davidson for letting me come into her class and read
withher students. We read a chapter from "Charlotte's Web," a wonderful
book.And Crystal said it was the students' favorite chapter. It's called
"TheMiracle." And it's about how Charlotte the spider weaves a magic web
thatsays, "some pig." And everybody thinks that it's the pig that's special,not
the spider, and as a consequence the pig is not sent off to make bacon.And it's
a pretty good story for real life, I think. (Laughter.) I mayrecommend it to
the Congress when I get home. (Laughter.)
I am told that I'm the first President to come to Owensboro
sinceHarry Truman. He always did have good judgment, Harry. (Applause.) But
Ihave known about Owensboro for a long time, now. The Baptist minister
thatmarried Wendell and Jean Ford was my next-door neighbor in 1961. And
hisdaughter graduated from high school with me, and became one of my
bestfriends, and now is very active in the national adult literacy movement.So
there's something in the atmosphere around here that promotes goodeducation. I
understand Lt. Governor Henry's mother was a 25-year veteranof the school
system here in this county. So I'm delighted to be here.
I am on the first stop of a two-day tour to highlight for the
Americanpeople the good things that are happening in education in America, and
thechallenges that are before us. I want people all across this country toknow
that there are places where people, against considerable odds, arebringing
educational excellence to all our children. I want people to knowthis because
the great challenge before us is how to get the reforms thatworked in Audubon
Elementary School into every elementary school inAmerica.
And the first thing that you have to do if you want to achieve
thatgoal is to know what was done, and to believe it works. I came to
Kentuckyto show America how a whole state can identify and turn
aroundslow-performing schools with high standards and accountability,
parentalinvolvement, and investments to help the schools and the students and
theteachers meet the standards. After I leave you I'm going on to
Davenport,Iowa, to highlight the importance of having good school facilities.
Andthis is a big issue, too. The average school building in America is over40
years old; in many of our cities, the average school building is over 65years
old. We have school buildings in some of our cities that can't bewired for the
Internet because the building just can't accommodate it.
We have school buildings in New York City still being heated
withcoal-fired furnaces. We have elementary schools in America with 12 or
13trailers out back because there are so many kids in the schools. So I'mgoing
to Iowa to try to emphasize that. And then tomorrow I'm going to St.Paul,
Minnesota, to visit the first public charter school in America, whichwas
basically created to give more accountability with less bureaucraticpaperwork,
and I'm going to talk about that. And then I'm going toColumbus, Ohio, to talk
about the importance of teachers and results in theclassrooms.
Dick Riley and I have been working on this for over 20 years,
since wewere young governors together in 1979. We met in late 1978, when we
wentto Atlanta -- they had a conference to show us how to be governors.
Theyrecognized that there was a difference between winning the election
anddoing the job. (Laughter.) And for over 20 years we've been wrestlingwith
the challenge of how to improve our schools and how especially to givepeople
who live in communities where there are a lot of lower-income peoplethe same
excellence in education that every American has a right to.
And because he's from South Carolina and I'm from Arkansas, we
feel alot of affinity with Kentucky. I have been here -- I came to Kentucky
forthe first time in 1979. I served with five Kentucky governors and I
feellike, since Paul has been so close to us these last seven years, I'veserved
with six. And I wanted to come here because I believe so stronglythat we can
have the kind of educational excellence we need for every childin the country
if people will take the basic things you have done here anddo them.
I believe that intelligence is equally distributed throughout
thehuman race, and I think educational opportunity ought to be also
equallydistributed. And I do want to say just one thing about Dick Riley --
Idon't think there's any question that even my political opponents wouldadmit
that he is the finest Secretary of Education this country has everhad.
Governor Patton talked about a decade of commitment to
excellencesince you passed your landmark reform bill in 1990. But he was on
acommittee called the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence back in
the1980s, so he's been at this a long time, too. And I guess the first thingI
would say to people all across America who are interested in this, thisis not a
day's work, or a weekend's work, or a month's work. You've got tomake a
long-term disciplined commitment to your children. And I thoughtone of the best
things about what Karen Cecil said was how she charted theimprovements in this
school through the lives of her children. It waspersonally very moving to me,
but it also made the larger point that if youreally want excellence in
education, you have to be prepared to pay theprice of time, and really work at
Now, here's what Kentucky did -- a lot of you know this, but I
thinkit's worth repeating for the audience across the country interested
inthis. First, in 1990 you set high standards for what all Kentucky
childrenshould know. Second, you identified the schools where year after
yearstudents didn't learn enough to meet those standards. Third, you held
theschools accountable for turning themselves around, with real consequencesfor
the failure to do so -- from dismissing principals and teachers toallowing
parents to transfer children into higher-performing publicschools. And fourth,
you provided the investment and other supportsnecessary, which your principal
and your parent have identified here today,to turn the schools around -- from
more teacher training to high qualitypreschool, after-school and summer school
programs, to the latesteducational technology. You have to do all of these
The results have been truly extraordinary. And I want -- you
know,because we're all here today with our friends from the media who will
putthis story out around the country, I want every American who doubts that
wecan provide excellence in education to listen to these Kentucky numbers.In
1996, Kentucky identified 175 schools needing major improvement. Twoyears later
-- in two years, 159 of those schools, 91 percent, had improvedbeyond the goals
you set for them.
Audubon Elementary, where we are today, is a particularly
dramaticexample. Now listen to this, this is what this school did. This
schoolwent from 12 percent of your students meeting or exceeding the
statestandards on writing tests, to 57 percent; from 5 percent meeting
orexceeding the state standards in reading, to 70 percent -- I saw that today--
from zero students meeting or exceeding the state standards in science,to 64
percent. This school is now the 18th-best performing elementaryschool in the
state, despite the fact that two-thirds of your studentsqualify for free and
reduced-price school lunches. That is truly amazing.(Applause.)
In fact -- this is also very interesting -- you can say that --
I knowthat people who don't agree with what we're trying to do will say, well,
sowhat, you know, they have Einstein for a principal there or
something.(Laughter.) And you may. But listen to this. In this entire state, 10
ofthe 20 best-performing elementary schools in science -- in science --
areschools where half the students are eligible for free and
reduced-priceschools lunches. Don't tell me all children can't learn. They can
learn,if they have the opportunity, and the system, and the support.
Income is not destiny. You have proved that all children can
learn,and you have also proved that public schools can succeed. Therefore, in
myjudgment, the answer to excellence for all our children is not to takemoney
away from our schools through vouchers, but to combine money withhigh
standards, accountability, and the tools teachers, children andparents need to
succeed. Because all children can learn, and because boththe children and the
nation need for all children to learnin the 21st century information economy, I
think turning aroundlow-performance schools is one of the great challenges this
country facesin the 21st century.
And I want to go off the script here for a couple minutes to
tell you,you know, I'm not running for anything this year, so I can say this,
Ihope, with some credibility. In times of adversity, people tend to
pulltogether and do what has to be done. You had a terrible tornado here
inJanuary; I know it was awful for you. We tried to give the support that
wewere supposed to give at the national level. But I'm sure you were amazedat
the community response. I'm sure you were all inspired by it. At timesof
adversity, we find the best in ourselves.
Sometimes we are most severely tested in good times, when it's
easyfor our attention to wander, for our concentration to break, for our
visionto fade. Now, this country is in the best economic shape it's ever
beenin, and all the social indicators are moving in the right direction. Andnow
is the time to ask ourselves what's really out there for us to do. Howare we
going to meet the challenge of the aging of America when all thebaby boomers
retire? We don't want to bankrupt our kids and their abilityto raise our
grandkids. Therefore, we should lengthen the life of SocialSecurity and make
sure Medicare is all right, I think add a prescriptiondrug benefit.
How are we going to continue to grow the economy at the end of
thelongest expansion in history? I think we have to sell more of our
stuffoverseas, but we also have to -- as I said in Hazard, Kentucky last
summer-- we've got to bring economic opportunity to the places that have
beenleft behind. It's inflation-free economic growth. How are we going tolift
our children out of poverty and give them all a world-class education?Those are
three of the biggest challenges this country has.
When we were worried about unemployment, when we were worried
aboutcrime never going down, when we were worried about welfare roles
exploding,it was hard to think about these big long-term challenges. Well,
thingsare in hand now. We're going in the right direction. This is the
bestchance anybody in this gym today will ever have in your lifetime to
dealwith these big challenges.
And so I -- that's another reason I'm here today. We can do
this. Wecan give all our kids a world-class education. And if we're not going
todo it now, when in the wide world will we ever get around to doing it?
Wecannot afford to break our concentration. Now is the time to say, thankyou
for this good time, to be grateful to God and to our neighbors and toall the
good fortune we've had, and then do the right thing by our kids.This is the
best time we'll ever have to do this. And so -- thank you.(Applause.)
I can also tell you we don't have unlimited time to do it.
We've gotthe biggest school population in our history. It's finally the last
twoyears been bigger than the baby boom generation. It is far more diverse.The
school district just across the river from Washington, D.C., inAlexandria, has
kids from 180 different racial-ethnic groups, speaking 100different first
languages. And the country will grow more diverse.
Now, in a global society, that's a good thing. Just like you
want tohave computers way out in the country, because they're connected to
theworld, right? This is a good thing, not a bad thing. But only if we
haveuniversal excellence in education.
Now, the other thing I'd like to say is, when Dick and I
started doingall this, and John Waihee was elected the next year, back in the
early1980s and the late '70s, we were struggling to try to figure out what
todo. Even when the "Nation At Risk" report was issued in 1983 -- and a lotof
us responded to it, we tried basically to just do what they said. Wedidn't even
have -- many states didn't even have basic, adequate graduationrequirements for
But we've now had 20 years of serious effort at educational
reform.So we not only have good economic times, we have the knowledge that
wedidn't have even 10 years ago about how to replicate what you have donehere.
And that's another reason we do not have any excuse for not doingthis. We know
what works. And what you've done here will work in anycommunity in the
Will it have to be modified for the people that live there, and
thecommunity conditions? Absolutely. But you know, I used to frequentlyvisit an
elementary school in Chicago -- when the crime rate was reallyhigh, in the
early '90s -- in the neighborhood with the highest murder ratein Illinois. And
the principal was an African American woman from my homestate, from the
Mississippi Delta. And all the parents were in the school.They had a school
dress code; they had no weapons in the school; they neverhad any violent
incidents. They had a zero dropout rate, and theyperformed above the state
average, just like you are. So we would see thisfrom time to time. We would
come across these jewels in the rough. Butnobody could really figure out, for a
long time, how to make thisuniversal.
We know, now, what the basic things you have done are, and how
to makethem available in every school in the country. We do not have an
excuseany longer not to do that. You have to set high standards. You have
tohave accountability. You have to train and pay decent teachers andprincipals.
You've got to provide the technology, and you have to have thesupport staff.
And you have to have the parental involvement, and thecommunity support. And
kids have to have the extra help they need to meetthe standards; you shouldn't
declare children failures when the systemdoesn't work. So it's okay to hold the
kids accountable, but you've got togive them the help they need to make it.
Now, that works -- invest more, demand more. For seven years in
ouradministration, the Vice President and I and Secretary Riley and theothers,
we've worked to give states like Kentucky the tools you need to dothe job. When
we were cutting spending like crazy to turn deficits intosurpluses, we still
had nearly doubled the national investment in educationand training. We
required states to set academic standards, but SecretaryRiley got rid of nearly
two-thirds of the regulations on states and localschool districts, to reduce
the unnecessary paperwork and to focus on whatwas really critical.
And we've also worked to help you reduce class size. I was
thrilledthat -- you know, I didn't think of you as a Clinton teacher,
but--(laughter) -- I'll take it any day of the week. I think it's wonderfuland
I'm honored that you're there. (Applause.)
But when I was in Crystal's class today, and all those kids,
every oneof those children read to me. Every one of them. Now, some of them had
alittle more trouble than others, partly because of the arcane nature of
thebook we read and the way they were talking about Desotos and Studebakersand
Packards -- (laughter) -- and not Isuzus and Hondas and other things.But every
one of those children was into reading, and obviously hadreceived individual
attention. Because -- I think there were 19 studentsin that class today, and
you can't do that with 40 kids. So this is a bigdeal.
So we're into our third year now of trying to fund 100,000
newteachers, to help to reduce the class sizes in the early grades so that
theyoung people can learn to read. And I'm also glad that young people
likeCrystal Davidson want to be teachers, and are dedicated to it, becausewe're
going to have a lot teachers retiring in the next few years.
We've also supported the America Reads program. We have
thesevolunteers here from AmeriCorps. There are 1,000 colleges now in
Americawhere young people are working in the elementary schools in our
country.In addition to that, you have RSVP Programs -- Retired Senior
Volunteers --which I think is a sponsor of the program here in this county --
and othergroups, church groups, other people all across this country helping.
And Ithink that's very important.
I said I was going to the charter school in Minnesota -- we had
onewhen I became President. There are 1,700 today, and we think we'll have3,000
school starts next year. We've really worked on this.
The Vice President fought very hard to get something called the
e-ratein the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which enables schools like this
tohook the classrooms up to the Internet and to get a discount to do so.It's
worth about $2 billion a year, so that the poorest schools in thecountry can
afford just as the wealthiest schools can to hook up theirclassrooms to the
When we started in '93, there were only 3 percent of our
classroomswith Internet connections. Today, nearly 75 percent have. Only 16
percentof the schools had even one connection; today 95 percent do, including
90percent in low-income areas in America. So this is making a difference,and
it's very important.
Now, across the country math and reading scores are rising--
67percent of all the high school graduates are now going to college. That's10
percent more than in 1993. Part of that is because we tried to open thedoors of
college financially to all Americans with the creation of the HOPEScholarship
which is a $1,500 tax credit for the first two years ofcollege, which makes
community college at least virtually free to mostfamilies, and another tax
credit for junior and senior years and forgraduate school. There are 5 million
families taking advantage of italready -- it's just been in since '98.
And we've expanded the Pell Grants; we've created education
IRAs;we've cut the cost of the student loans through the Direct Student
LoanProgram by $8 billion -- students have saved $8 billion on the program,
andlower interest costs on student loans, in just six years. And I'm tryingto
get the Congress this year to allow the cost of college tuition to
betax-deductible up to $10,000 a year. And if we do that, we do that onelast
piece, we will really be able to say that we have opened the doors ofcollege to
every American family, and everybody will be able to go -- andmoney should not
be an obstacle. So we're trying to get this done.(Applause.)
Okay, that's the good news. Now, what's the bad news? The bad
newsis that you're here and we're celebrating, but there are still a whole
lotof schools in America, hundreds of them, that fail to give children
theeducation that you give the children here in Audubon. And in this
economy,that is bad for them and bad for the rest of us, because we live in
aneconomy in which it's not only what you know that counts, it's what
you'recapable of learning.
The whole nature of work is being radically revolutionized
byinformation technology. It's accounted for 30 percent of our economicgrowth
in the last eight years, even though people working directly ininformation
technology are only 8 percent of the work force. But if youwork in a bank, if
you work in an insurance company -- in my part of thecountry, if you drive a
tractor, your life has been changed by the waycomputers work.
And this means that it's not only necessary to be able to know
certainthings. You've got to have these learning skills that kids get in
gradeschool to keep on learning for a lifetime. It is profoundly important.
And we do need what the Vice President has called a revolution
ineducation. But it's not a revolution to find something that doesn't
exist.It's a revolution to take what works here, and put it everywhere. That
hasalways been the great challenge of American education. It's just that
weweren't sure what it was we wanted to put everywhere. Today, we are.
And again I tell you, there will never be a better time
economicallyto do it, and we don't have any excuse not to do it, because we
know whatworks. After 20 years, we know what works. (Applause.)
Last year, Dick Riley and I sent Congress an
EducationalAccountability Act that would fundamentally change the way we spend
the $15billion we give to our schools -- not to take it away from our
commitmentto helping lower income communities and kids, but to say we're going
toinvest in what we know works, and we're going to stop investing in what
weknow doesn't work. It would essentially require states that take federalmoney
to do what you have done in Kentucky: to identify low-performingschools; to
develop a strategy for turning them around, based on a set ofstandards and an
It would require the ending of so-called social promotion, but
again,not branding the children failures. It would require that only if you
alsohad after-school, summer school, tutoring -- the support services
necessaryfor the children to succeed. And it would empower parents, by
encouragingmore parental involvement in schools and guaranteeing report cards
to theparents on school performance, not just the students' performance,
comparedto other schools.
It would provide funds to make sure that all teachers are
trained inthe subjects they teach -- which is going to become a huge problem
when allthese math and science teachers retire in high school, getting people
whoare actually certified and trained to teach the courses they're supposed
tobe teaching -- and provide more support for school districts for
I've asked Congress to double our investment in the
EducationAccountability Fund to help people turn around low-performing schools,
orshut them down. And I've asked Congress to double our investment
inafter-school and summer school programs.
The federal government, when I became President, was spending
nothingon these programs. Then we -- I got an appropriation for $1 million,
andthen $2 million, and then $40 million, and then $200 million. Then it's$400
million this year -- $450 million. And I'm trying to get $1 billion.If we get
$1 billion, we can provide summer school in this country to everystudent and
every poor, low-performing school in the United States ofAmerica. That is very,
very important. (Applause.)
So to make this strategy work, we've got to have the courage to
dowhat Kentucky is doing -- to identify the schools that aren't performing.Not
where the students are failing; where the schools are failing thestudents. The
grown-ups have to take responsibility for this. Then we canhelp to turn them
around. Today I am directing -- that's a misnomerbecause we agreed in advance,
Secretary Riley -- to begin to provide anannual report, national report on
low-performing schools, to tell us forthe first time how many of our nation's
public schools are failing, wherethey're located, what the states are doing to
turn them around.
Second, as we press Congress to pass our accountability
legislation,we must ensure that the states do what they're supposed to do
underexisting laws. Therefore, I'm directing the Secretary to send teams
tostates to make sure they're meeting their responsibilities onlow-performance
schools; to work with states to apply the kind ofsuccessful strategies that
have worked here; to identify federal resourceslike these after-school grants
which states can use to turn the schoolsaround.
I never cease to be amazed when I go places that there are
people thatliterally don't know we have this money there for them. I'll bet you
thereare people that need this teacher money that haven't applied for it. And
Inearly know there are people that need this after-school money that
haven'tapplied for it, because we have grown this program very fast in response
toa clear national need.
These actions will help us to spread the lesson we have learned
duringthese last seven years. In education, investment without
accountabilitycan be a waste of money. But accountability without investment is
a wasteof effort. Neither will work without the other.
Ten years ago, when things looked pretty grim for public
schools,before a lot of these reforms got underway, the late head of the
AmericanFederation of Teachers, Al Shanker, who was a great friend of mine and
avery vigorous advocate of high standards and accountability, said somethingto
his fellow teachers that I thought was very moving. He said, we have tobe
willing to tell the American people the bad news about our publicschools so
that when the schools begin to turn around and we have good newsto report, they
will believe us.
Well, today here in Kentucky and in other places across
America, thereis good news to report. The American people believe that. But
they expectus to keep at it until the good news is the real news in every
singleschool in this country. (Applause.)
Thank you, thank you for what you have done to help make that
happen.Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 12:37 P.M. CDT