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Interview With Lou Forrest of WSYX - TV in Columbus, Ohio

November 25, 1991

America 2000

Q. Essentially, the America 2000 program, the criticisms that I've heard of -- and this comes from a sixth-grade teacher here in the central Ohio area here, Jerry Wilson -- who said that he thinks it relies really too much on testing, on memorizing things rather than teaching or learning.

The President. I don't think it does rely that heavily on it. I think parents and educators would like to see some yardstick. So, we're talking about voluntary testing to show people where they stand. Is your school measuring up to this school over here? Is this school better in math and science than this school? So to reach our national education goals -- one of which is, incidentally, math and science proficiency -- I think we need a testing program. I don't think all the emphasis ought to be on testing, however.

Q. But are you requiring the testing? Is that just by rote? Our students really -- --

The President. Well, I don't think it's been designed. I don't think that the tests have even been designed yet. I think they can be flexible, but what they've got to do is show how a school compares with another one in this city or another State. And the idea that this kind of naive view that you don't need any testing, I think is ridiculous. I think we kind of went through that approach a while back, kind of a goo-goo approach that we don't need tests; we don't need anybody to know where they stand; we'll just throw something out there at them. And I think you do need certain standards.

One of the things I'm excited about is trying to meet our national education standards -- first time we've ever had -- and it's not Republican or Democrat. It's all the Governors getting together. And Ohio now is getting out in the forefront of all of this.

Q. You like the Ohio 2000 program?

The President. I think it's off to a good start. Governor Voinovich has put together what they call a "Team of 100," and they come from all walks of life, and they come from different parties. And I think what he wants to do is get down into the communities to reinvent the school. I don't know, some teachers might wonder about what this does to the status quo, but most of them, I think, feel inhibited by a lot of bureaucracy and certification and regulations. And I think most recognize, no matter how hard they're trying, that we're not as competitive in education for the future as we should be. So, we're getting good, broad support, not just from the business community and the local communities, but from the education community as well. That's not to say we don't have any critics.

Q. Right. Well, let me ask you, then, about being inhibited by regulations. There also is a lot of criticism that the Federal Government has too many regulations.

The President. Yes.

Q. For example, there is one program that if you buy computers under this program you can't use those to teach disadvantaged students in the day and use it to teach adult literacy at night. Do you have any ideas on getting rid of some of these -- --

The President. Yes, I do. And I think a lot of the education 2000 strategy tries to address itself to that, fights against mandated programs from Washington, DC. A big argument that I have with many of the entrenched committee chairmen in Congress is, we've got to do it differently. Don't tell Columbus, Ohio that they've got to do a formula like you've just mentioned, the same as a formula from Brooklyn or Beeville, Texas. It's not that kind of -- it doesn't lend itself to this kind of rote or mandate.

So when a person expresses frustration like that, there's two things: One, we've got to avoid legislative mandates. Secondly, if the Federal Government, just by rulemaking and regulation, is burdening these communities, then I've got to do better in getting rid of those regulations that just tie the hands of innovative superintendents or teachers or shopworkers or whatever it is.

Q. California had a very good idea when they started reform in that State, was that any school district could apply for an exemption if they found a rule or a law that roadblocked them, and they would handle that.

The President. There are exemptions that can be applied for to the departments in Washington, and I think we've been able to handle some by exemption. But the big answer is to redo it, to start from scratch. And therein, we may run into problems at local levels, State levels. But so far, the receptivity is strong in the 25 States, Ohio being the 25th, that have adopted the America 2000 education strategy.

Funding for Education

Q. One of the things I did in preparation for this interview, Mr. President, was ask a number of teachers and principals, if you could ask the President any question, what would it be? And the very first answer I got from Carol Price, who is a principal at an elementary school, was: What about funding? Obviously the bulk of funding for education comes from the States, but how are you going to pay for America 2000?

The President. States and local. Let me put funding in a broad perspective. And don't hold me within a billion to the month. In the early eighties, we were spending $160 billion on education. Now it's $400 billion -- $400 billion. And we're still not of proficient rank internationally to say that in the future we can compete or say to a parent, "Your kid's getting the very best." I don't think it is a question of funding. America 2000 is not trying to tell the States how much money they have to put into each program.

And our budget, of course, for the Department of Education is up. But I don't think that the Federal -- that the answer to education, if this is what Carol was saying, lies in vast increases in Federal funding. Federal funding is six percent, I believe, of the total education budget. She ought to look at how can we revolutionize this education to make ourselves be more efficient? How can we get the parents involved more? How can we stop getting too many mandates telling me, Carol Price, how I ought to run my classroom, for example?

So I don't think it's funding. I mean, in some areas I wish there was more money brought to bear on a specific problem. But I don't think we can say, well, we're failing because we're not getting enough money from the taxpayers.

Q. I think, she's operating on a day-to-day basis where she sees how much she has for supplies and how much she has to buy new textbooks and then the available Federal monies that she can get that -- that was her concern.

The President. Well, she may be right, because in this instance she may be speaking right there from the heart with fact on her side. Because in some areas, some States and some communities, as they assign priorities in tough economic times, have had to cut back on things. But I would be surprised if she's saying, "Hey, they're not letting me get the diversity of classroom implements I need; Federal Government, please send it." I think she's probably saying, "Look, we're getting hurt here. The economy is down. People are hurting. And some of it's coming out of education. And I'm a teacher, and I don't want to see it cut here. I want to see us go forward." So maybe it's something like that, that motivated her comment.

Adult Education

Q. One of the goals of America 2000 is a skilled, literate workforce. Are you proposing anything with vocational training?

The President. Yes. Adult education. Adult literacy. Adult literacy is a key, incidentally; the concept, nobody's too old to learn. I'm sitting down, as kind of admittedly with some show business, but now fascination, learning to do a computer. By doing that, I've started to do that to show nobody's too old to be taught. And now I find I'm using that thing for all the memos I send out -- they've taken my typewriter away from me -- and it works. And so we're talking here about more adult literacy programs, more adult education programs, but with flexible styling. Style them so they suit the needs of the communities, not back again to mandates, to be mandated from some subcommittee chairman in Washington, DC.

Anti-Crime Legislation

Q. Let me switch gears here for just a moment. The crime bill. I get the impression from the reports that you do not like the crime bill.

The President. I'm very disappointed. We fought hard for anti-crime legislation that will support the police officer, a little less concern about the criminal himself. We've got good provisions in there for the victims of crime. And then it gets technical: habeas corpus reform, exclusionary rule reform. All of that's moved the wrong way in this midnight conference, or conference that broke up last night in the Senate and House. And looks like we're getting back to party politics. So I do worry that we're not going to be able to get for the American people the kind of tough anti-crime legislation they want. And I'll keep fighting Congress until I get it.

Q. And if it comes to you, you would veto it?

The President. Well, I have to know exactly what's in it. But from what I understand the conference did, I'd have to. I'd have to. And there are some things in there we want. But you know, that's a problem with divided Government. I have to stand up and beat back things that I think are against the interest for the American people in order to get good legislation. So, let's see how it actually comes down to the White House. It may not even get there. It may not even get there this session. They may turn it over until next session.

Q. Okay. Thank you, sir.

The President. Thank you very much.

Note: The interview began at 12:56 p.m. in the chorus room of the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. During the interview, Mr. Forrest referred to Jerry Wilson, a sixth-grade teacher at Wilson Hill Elementary School, and Carol Price, principal of Colonial Hill Elementary School, both located in Worthington, OH. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview.

George Bush, Interview With Lou Forrest of WSYX - TV in Columbus, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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