Press Briefing by Secretary of Education Richard Riley and Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy William Galston
The Briefing Room
12:52 P.M. EST
SECRETARY RILEY: I've just come from visiting Kramer Junior High School with the President, and it was really a wonderful experience to hear him talking to these students and letting them know in strong terms that he's not going to give up on them. I think it's very appropriate that the President would go to a school --we've got on the floor of the Senate right now Goals 2000 legislation being debated; many other education matters are out there being considered.
Goals 2000 is the combination of a 10-year effort to reform American education, to get beyond the crisis of education that we've talked and talked about to the solution. Important things are happening regarding education in this country. Education for American children is, I think, the most important subject out there, and I think it's very clear that the future of this country is dependent upon it improving and working and being relevant to the times.
For years in this nation we've been able to prosper using the old assembly line version of education. When you graduated from high school you went on to college or you got a job at the local factory. Everyone did okay. The President talked about that at Kramer in a very personal way, how when he finished high school there was a job out there for everyone -- education was not the controlling factor. For years this nation was able to prosper using the old version, and now that simply won't work.
Those days are over. We need to raise the standards to essentially reinvent our educational system to fit this new economy. We've got to get away from what I have called over and over again a tyranny of low expectations, believing that young people can get by with just a minimum of learning and get them better prepared for the world out there that they're going to face.
That's really the essence of Goals 2000. We have too many young people coming out of high school unprepared for the real world. Business is spending billions and billions of dollars every year teaching their workers the basics, and too many college students have to spend their first and second year, or whatever, on remedial courses.
Now, when we came out with the National Adult Literacy Report last year, we found that some 20 percent of the people who were at the lowest level of literacy had a high school education. That was a shocking thing for many of us. Some of us it was a tragic thing to look at. The end then of Goals 2000 is to get America education in one common effort: to raise its standards, to recognize that the world has changed and to get on with this business of giving all of our children a world-class education.
Goals 2000 passed the House last fall, as you know, with the support of 57 Republicans. Bipartisan support encourages me. We are receiving in the Senate bipartisan support also, strong support from Senator Kennedy, Kassebaum, Jeffords, Pell, many, many others. And these senators, I think, recognize that for education reform to really happen, that it's got to be comprehensive. It's got to be across the board. Goals 2000 does just that. It will set in motion a whole series of reforms from how we prepare teachers, to raising standards, to making better assessment of whether students are really learning. The uniqueness of this legislation is that it allows every state and every community to fix the goals up there like the North Star as a real goal, and then voluntarily in their own way design their system to meet the goals.
I want to reiterate that the Goals legislation encourages local reform, but it does not mandate it. And that's why this legislation has broad bipartisan support from all of the nation's governors, business community, parents groups, teachers.
When people ask me why I am so passionate about education reform, I'd like to point out to them that 82 percent of the people in America's prisons are school dropouts. And somehow we lost them in school and a lot of other factors as you and I know, but they gave up on themselves; they dropped out; became disconnected and went wrong. And if we want to connect them back up to society, if we want to end the violence, in my mind the most effective way is to truly reform American education, to make our schools not only exciting places where children learn, but they are true safe havens for learning.
Bill Galston, the Deputy Assistant to the President on Domestic Policy, will make some remarks, and then we'll be happy to respond to some questions.
MR. GALSTON: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I just want to spend a couple of minutes explaining why this bill, this Goals 2000 bill, which as the Secretary stated, passed the House with a strong bipartisan vote last fall and which is now under consideration by the full Senate, why this bill matters so much to the President of the United States.
As the Secretary suggested, this bill represents the culmination of years of Bill Clinton's dedication to education reform in general and to the national education goals in particular, as Governor of Arkansas and as a leader within the National Governors Association.
This bill, moreover, constitutes the framework for the President's entire education and training reform agenda, including such pending and forthcoming legislation as the elementary and secondary act, reauthorization, and the schools to work opportunity act. And education reform, in turn, is at the core of the President's strategy for promoting economic competitiveness and personal opportunity in a new global economy where increasingly what you earn depends on what you can learn.
This bill respects the principles of federalism in which the President, as a former governor, deeply believes. It helps to craft a new partnership involving the national government, the states and the localities to catalyze education reform. This bill establishes one principle above all, the principle of excellence. There are many different roads to excellence. The states and localities will have the opportunity to craft and choose their own.
In addition, this bill reflects the President's principles of reinventing government. It emphasizes results, not
micromanagement. And it emphasizes state and local flexibility through the use of waiver authority.
This bill builds on what works. The President has said that every education problem we have in America has been solved by some school somewhere in America. And this bill, among its other strengths, sets up a process whereby states and localities can learn more effectively from one another and from their successes.
Finally, bipartisanship. It was a bipartisan coalition of governors that helped to give the initial impetus to the national education goals movement. As the Secretary has already indicated, the Goals 2000 bill passed the House with a strong bipartisan vote, and it enjoys strong bipartisan support in the Senate. With this support, the President looks forward to prompt passage by the full Senate, expeditious resolution of House-Senate differences in conference, and especially to signing this bill into law.
And now we're ready to take questions.
SECRETARY RILEY: Questions? Yes.
Q: Why is there no formal testing mechanism in this to find out what the outcomes are?
SECRETARY RILEY: Well, there is the systemic reform, part of systemic reform is testing. It is assessment really done on the state and local level, but that is part of Goals 2000. If the way a state and local community buys into Goals 2000 is to be willing to have their own systemic reform, and that means their own high standards -- what a kid should know and be able to do at a certain grade level in certain subjects. Their own teacher preparation to those high standards, their own teacher development, their own parent involvement, their own assessment to those same high standards. That is the meaning of systemic reform, and that is what the state buys into when they buy into Goals 2000. So it does involve testing, it involves assessment. Without that, you don't complete the circle of systemic reform.
Q: But there's no national test that all states would take, is that right?
SECRETARY RILEY: That's exactly right. Of course, we have the NATE test now which is not a high stakes test. It would not say that Dick Riley made such and such and was able to pass. It would say that in this state, this was the level in terms of certain subject matter -- and in the country. So the NATE test gives us the basic information of where we're going with education -- whether we're improving or not, or whatever. And that takes place now and is part of our testing system. The high stakes testing then would be on the state and local level.
Q: What would Kramer -- what would your plan 2000, Goals 2000, do for a school like Kramer Junior High where the President was this morning?
SECRETARY RILEY: Goals 2000 would say to Kramer, first of all, every child in this school can learn. Every child is important. High standards matter. It would say, then, the process -- as you know the funds that go down to the state, 85 percent to the school district and then 85 percent of those to the very school, so after a period of years, maybe the first year, but certainly within several years Kramer would then have funds at the school level so the folks there in a collaborative way could develop their own process to meet these reforms.
That fact is that with Chapter One watered-down curriculum that we now have which we are proposing to do away with absolutely -- we're talking about one standard, one high standard ; and it would say to these young people that are at Kramer, all these goals are important -- safe schools, drug-free schools, graduation, so forth. But it would say most of all that high standards matter, learning matters; your getting serious about education is extremely important; that's the way to a future job; that's the way to a successful life.
We think building in this concept of high standards from four-year-olds forward, from the very time they go into the school system -- not picking them up in the 11th grade and saying now standards are important -- but from the whole -- throughout the system, that performance matters; how you do matters; it's going to matter to you. That's kind of what the whole concept would be about.
Q: How do you get them to care? I mean, you can set the standards out there, but how do you motivate these young people to care, whether there's a standard or not?
SECRETARY RILEY: Well, you get them to connect up to high standards, connect up to learning. Why does it matter to learn a particular subject? Young people at a very young age now disassociate themselves of that. They do not figure how that matters, why they should stay at home and do homework instead of watching Beavis and Butthead or whatever they want to watch on television.
But this whole concept builds in throughout the schools this concept that all that matters. So I think by having challenging connecting-up course work, by teachers going through a process of constant redevelop. All of our measures fit in, as Bill Galston said, to this centerpiece of Goals 2000 -- high standards, lots of emphasis on professional development. Education's constantly changing. Teachers are crying out for more time to become professionally developed, making more interesting the classroom work that those students would have, connecting up with them in many ways. Of course, and then looking on into the school-to-work possibility, if that's the direction they want to go as they move on into high school.
Q: What changes, however, under Goals 2000? Do the teachers -- does the student-teacher ratio change? Are there more aides? Is there more focus on fundamentals? Is there more money for vocational stuff? What changes?
SECRETARY RILEY: What changes is whatever the state and local people want to change to meet the standards to round out the systemic reform. We are not into -- and that's the problem we've had in education -- the federal government mandating something, as you would point out. That's the old way that it was done in the '60s and during that era.
The new way, the reinventing way is to work with the states and the school districts to establish high standards. This is what a real education means. And then, to work with them to put together all of those ingredients that you're discussing, but that's their decision. Some school districts -- one thing would be important, some, that would not be important at all. They would not need that. Others would need stronger textbooks. Others might need smaller classrooms or smaller schools. So we're not commanding, mandating, setting out for them what to do, we're setting with them these high standards, and then assessment and to work towards those standards, whatever we need to do to round it out. But it's a lot of local control and state responsibility; there's no question about that.
Q: Isn't there a risk that this is so nebulous that basically at the end, when it gets down to the state and local level, nothing gets done and nothing is approved?
SECRETARY RILEY: If that is true, this country has a very dismal future. Education works at the local level. That's where it happens. You cannot come in from on high and say, I'm sitting over here in federal office building number six and I've decided that you out there in the hills of Kentucky ought to do this, this and this. You've got to get those people motivated, part of a national process that education matters all through the system. That's what we're going to bring about with Goals 2000.
And I think all of us that you can sit -- hunt for some specific thing, magic bullet that's all of a sudden going to make a school better. What you need is the motivation and almost this patriotic feeling that if I as a person, or we as a country are going to have a future, we've got to get serious about education.
And I see what you're craving for, and others. And really, the press has not picked up on Goals 2000. I think that reason is being a dramatic change. It is dramatic. And I think you'll see how dramatic it is over the years.
Q: Mr. Secretary, with respect, what it seems I hear you saying is that this program amounts to jawboning the local -- state and local districts. You're giving them some money and then you're setting some standards and you're saying, go for it. And then you're stepping back and you're going to wait and see what they do.
SECRETARY RILEY: I would find it not as jawboning but as a partnership. And I think that's a better definition of what it is. And I do not think the old way in terms of education -- you've got to remember that education, again, is a state responsibility and the federal role in the past has been to become involved in very narrow issues -- special education or bilingual or whatever; disadvantaged, in case of Chapter One. Goals 2000 deals with all children, all students. And it does not specify what to do, and I don't think that it should. But it establishes the partnership where we will have the technical advise and so forth to help advise any school or school district whatever they need to know as what they would best do to reach the standards.
And I tell you when you -- you know, when a parent -- you say why standards? Why all of this interest in standards? That is really the key around -- the whole thing is driven by standards. Developing what in science -- a kid in the 8th grade should know. And if you saw those standards you get a little bit more of an idea of what I'm saying. They are very practical things that a kid in the eighth grade should know in science world-class. That's looking at Japan and London and everywhere else.
Those standards then tell a parent what a good education is. Everybody wants the best education for their children. What is the best education? This is a massive consensus arrived at throughout the country involving thousands and thousands of people in science -- teachers and others to arrive at the standards. And then that gives us something concrete to work towards. And for that kind of light to be out there and for the schools to see exactly what they should get their system to accomplish, I think is going to make a tremendous difference.
Q: schools don't know about this now? I mean, within the professional -- literature and amongst teacher discussions, administrative discussions, they must know what information there is.
SECRETARY RILEY: Some have -- some do on some things, some don't. Some are in the process of looking at that. Some are into determining standards on the state level or whatever. This would say, though -- if all 50 states buy into Goals 2000 -- and we certainly hope and expect they would -- all states would be doing their state action plans, which would then be identifying the strengths and weaknesses in the state and where they need to go to reach the standards and the method of arriving at the standards, getting their state government, their local school board, all people in authority to buy into this process. And I'll tell you, it's a massive thing. And if it begins to change people's motivation, you'll see it's the most powerful thing out there.
Q: What comes first, the high standards or every child matters, every student matters? Because it seems to me that there is the tendency in American education today to dumb down academic work, to take into account all the students rather than to take into account those who can't or won't master the subject.
SECRETARY RILEY: At one time when I was Governor of South Carolina, I was very much concerned -- many of our students in South Carolina didn't have a fair opportunity. African American students, they were not given a good education almost by design of a tragic part of our history. Then when we merged the schools and we looked at the two differences in opportunity, it used to bother me a great deal to say we're going to have one high standard: the white kids pass, the black kids fail. That is changing. Those opportunities now have changed. It is in the process, and it takes some time to really work through that.
I became totally convinced during my period as governor that the idea of having lower standards for anybody -- for anybody -- was a mistake. And I'm talking about special ed kids, disabled kids. I think you ought to have one standard. Everybody can't reach the high standard, but they can work towards it. And if we, in this country, realize that we've got to in this day and time -- as I said earlier in my statement, there was a period when we didn't need everybody to be educated; now we do. And if we all, in this country, can look towards that goal -- one standard, high standard, worldclass standard -- and then all of us move in that direction, I think that's what will make a big difference. The dumbing down doesn't work. We tried that in chapter one. Maybe it was a transitional thing, but now we need one standard, all kids driving toward that same standard.
And then, in the occupational standards, those kids have the same academic standards. They elect not to go through a fouryear college program at some point in time, but they want to be prepared for work when they get out of college, or when they get out of high school, or one or two years of college. Then they might decide to go on to two more years, night school or whatever.
But those same high academic standards apply to the kids who elect to go into the occupational route and then get special connection up with their occupational field. If they're into health care -- working in the hospital in the afternoon in the summers, doctors in the classroom, hospital managers and so forth -- the same academic standards, though; the same math and science and the same history and so forth.
Q: What are you looking for in the upcoming budget to implement the ideas of Goals 2000 and other educational initiatives?
SECRETARY RILEY: I think February the 7th, I believe the President's going to come down with his budget. And we've been advised to be careful about getting out ahead of that. However, I would say this: The President has made it very clear that his thrust, his shifts are in the direction of human investment. And
I'll tell you absolutely that the President considers education among the leading characteristics of human investment. I think that's clear to all of us. So I think it's clear to me -- and we'll all know next week -- but it's clear to me the President's going to make a major statement in that regard -- that education is very important for this country.
Q: The Senate bill is quite different than the original bill that your office proposed. If that's the bill that emerges from conference, do you think the President would be willing to sign that bill?
SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I think it's a mistake for me to say out front what the President will or will not be willing to sign. But I do think we're going through a process. And you say it's dramatically different -- I wouldn't characterize it that way. There are some differences, and it would certainly take a conference committee to work those out. And it's still in process. Of course, it hadn't finished yet -- it's on the floor right now, as you know.
I do think this -- I think I would be safe at saying I'm very pleased and comfortable with what's happening in the Senate. I was very proud of the House and the way they ended up resolving their differences. So the bill, Goals 2000, came out of the House, I think, in good shape, and it's going through the Senate in good shape. Some differences, yes, and those will be resolvable differences.
Q: You've talked about some things in Chapter 1 that don't work. So are you planning to change Chapter 1 in any significant way at a time when actually they're looking for another $700 million towards this program?
SECRETARY RILEY: Yes. Well, we definitely are. Of course, the first change, which is inconsequential, is to call it Title I. But just to make it be characterized different, it is that -- several aspects of the elementary and secondary act reauthorization, that we are emphasizing and prioritizing and changing. Number one is, it also is driven by the same high standards that drive Goals 2000. That's a shift. There's no Chapter 1 testing, no Chapter 1 assessment any different from anything else. Chapter one kids will have the same high standards that all other kids have. We're looking at flexibility built into it, certain waiver capacities that are not present at this time. We're looking at targeting. We're making a special effort to try to target the 25 percent poorest areas. It's clear in our research that a poor kid has a more difficult time with achievement than a kid who is advantaged.
It is further clear that a poor kid in a poor school has a double difficulty with achievement. That's really what Chapter One, Title One is all about. So we are certainly hopeful about concentrating Chapter One more in the 25 percent poorer schools.
And several other changes that are out there -- let's see -- targeting, flexibility I mentioned, standards, school-wide -- we're pressing for expansion of the school-wide program rather than the pull-out program, to have much more use of that program. which we think reduces the bureaucracy and increases the education of all children in a poor school.
Well, I thank you all very much.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:24 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Secretary of Education Richard Riley and Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy William Galston Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269504