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Remarks by the President to the Owensboro Community

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The Briefing Room


Audubon Elementary School
Owensboro, Kentucky

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 for thedistrict.

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. (Applause.)

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 it.

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 things.

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. (Applause.)

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 high school.

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 country.

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 Internet.

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 accountability mechanism.

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 extratraining.

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

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