George W. Bush photo

Remarks at Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts

January 08, 2002

Thank you all very much. Thank you, please. You know, I told the folks at the coffee shop in Crawford, Texas, that Ted Kennedy was all right. [Laughter] They nearly fell out. [Laughter] But he is. I've come to admire him. He's a smart, capable Senator. You want him on your side, I can tell you that. And as a result of his hard work, we put together a good piece of legislation that has put Republicans and Democrats on the side of the schoolchildren in America. And Senator, thank you very much for your leadership.

On September the 11th, my wife was heading to—was on Capitol Hill to testify in front of Senator Kennedy. And before she could go testify in front of his committee, obviously the evildoers hit America. And I want to thank him publicly, in front of his home folks, for providing such comfort to Laura during an incredibly tough time. Ironically enough, Judd Gregg was there, as well, and both those men went out of their way to put their arm around Laura and let her know all would be right. So, Mr. Senator, not only are you a good Senator; you're a good man.

Speaking about September the 11th, I want the young folks here to know that the mission we are on to rid the world of terror is a noble and just mission. I long for peace. But we learned a terrible lesson, and that lesson is, we must rout out terror wherever it exists, in order for you and your children to grow up in a free and peaceful society. This Nation will not tire; we will not rest until we bring those who are willing to harm Americans to justice. And that's exactly what we intend to do.

We have a job to do overseas, and our military is performing brilliantly. For those of you who have got relatives in the military or those of you who are in the military, thank you from the bottom of our Nation's collective heart.

And we've got a job to do here at home, as well, and that's to make sure every child in America—every child—receives a good education.

Senator Kennedy and I, on the way in here, were talking about the Latin School. And I want to thank the headmistress Kelley for having us here. Thank you very much. After he had finished the litany of all the Kennedys that had gone to school here—[laughter]—we talked about the quality of education that the kids receive here. And the truth of the matter is, if you look at this bill that I signed this morning in Ohio, it says this is the way—this is Boston Latin all over again. This is what Boston Latin is about. It's about expecting high standards, understanding every child can learn, demanding the best, insisting upon hard work, rewarding success, solving failure. It is a great school, and I am grateful that I could come and herald the signing of an important piece of legislation here at this school. This is not only a testimony to Senator Ted Kennedy's hard work; it's a testimony to a fine public school. Thank you for having us.

I appreciate the Governor coming, and I know the Governor is committed to quality education as well. Jane, thank you for being here. I'm honored that members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation came. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to come by and say hello. I appreciate so very much the mayor being here. Mr. Mayor, thank you for coming; it's good to see you again. I want to thank all of you for coming. I particularly want to thank the students who are here.

I—you're seeing Government at its best with this piece of legislation. I know there's a lot of folks who look at Washington and say, "Can't they ever get along? All they do is argue. All they do is call each other names." But on this piece of legislation, on this important piece of legislation, we figured out how to put our parties aside and focus on what's right for the American children. We showed the country that, if we so desire, it is possible in Washington to say the Nation matters more than our political parties matter.

That was not as easy as it sounds. [Laughter] It took a lot of hard work, and it took the leadership of four fine Americans who are on this stage with me today. These four people decided they would rather see results than have empty rhetoric dominate the scene. These people said, "Look, we disagree on some issues, but why don't we figure out where we agree and get something done." And it was in that spirit that we crafted a great piece of legislation.

Big George Miller is out of California. He is—he might be considered left in Massachusetts. [Laughter] What do you think, Congressman? [Laughter] That's saying something. [Laughter] Before I went to Washington, I had a group of the gentlemen come down to Austin to talk about education reform, and George and I had a discussion about making sure that the systems did not simply shuffle children through, that we wanted to call a halt to what some call social promotion. I knew right then and there, when I heard his passion about focusing on each child, that there was a potential ally when it came to writing good legislation.

And then Boehner from Ohio showed up. He did a fabulous job, by the way. I signed the bill this morning in his district to really express my gratitude and the Nation's gratitude for his leadership on shepherding this bill through the House of Representatives. Without John Boehner, without George Miller, this bill never would have made it throughout the House, and I want to thank them both from the bottom of my heart.

And then there's the Kennedy-Gregg alliance. [Laughter] It was amazing that it worked, but it did. And the truth of the matter is, the bill wouldn't have gotten out of the Senate had not Senator Kennedy and Judd Gregg put their minds to it. This bill could have easily have stalled. It was a convenient time for people to say, "Well, we'd better not move anything out of the Senate because there's a war." But Ted Kennedy and Judd Gregg went to their respective caucuses and demanded action. And as a result, the bill came to the Senate floor, passed overwhelmingly, and I had the honor of signing it this morning.

I wish you could have seen the piece of legislation. It's really tall. And I admit, I haven't read it yet. [Laughter] You'll be happy to hear I don't intend to. [Laughter] But I know the principles behind the bill, and I want to describe some of them to you.

First, this bill says that we will hold people accountable for results. It says, in return for receiving Federal money, States must design accountability systems to measure—to determine whether or not children are learning to read and write and add and subtract. In return for Federal money, the State of Massachusetts or the State of Texas or any other State in the Union must develop an accountability system to let us know whether children in grades three through eight are meeting standards. It basically says, every child can learn. And if they're not learning, we want to know early, before it is too late.

Now, I've heard them say, "Well, tests— we're testing too much." If you don't like to take a test, too bad, because we need to know. We need to know whether you're learning.

I read a quote from a little girl from New York the other day that touched my heart, and I hope it touches yours. She said, "I don't remember taking exams. They just kept passing me along. I ended up dropping out in the seventh grade. I basically felt no one cared." Well, she was— she's blowing the whistle on what happens in some of our schools in America.

You see, sometimes it's easy to walk into a classroom and say, "Certain children can't learn. Therefore, let's just move them through. Let's don't test them. Let's just push them out at the end." And that's wrong in America. Every child matters; every child should be diagnosed on whether or not they can read and write and add and subtract. And if they can't, we need to correct their problems early, before it's too late. The cornerstone of reform is strong accountability measures, just like you do here in the State of Massachusetts.

Secondly, in order for reform to mean anything, there must be consequences. Something must happen if there's failure. Now in this bill, it says schools will be given time to correct. After posting the test scores and mailing out the report cards that show mediocrity or failure, schools will still be given a chance to correct the problems. And therefore, we provide incentives and resources to make sure that failing schools have got the opportunity to meet standards.

But if they don't, the consequence is that parents must be empowered to make different choices. We must not trap children in schools that will not teach and will not change. And so, therefore, this bill says parents in failed schools can send their children to another public school or charter school or be able to get tutoring for their children in either the public or private sector. It is important to free families from failure in public education, and that's what this bill does.

The third principle—it says that we trust the local people to make the right decisions for the schools. It says we trust the Governors and the school boards to design the path to excellence for every child. It says Washington has a role of providing money, and now Washington is demanding results. But Washington should not micromanage the process. And so, this bill provides a lot more flexibility for the local folks. In essence, it says the people of Boston care more about the children of Boston than people in Washington, DC.

Rod Paige understands that. The reason I picked Rod to become the Secretary of Education is because he was the superintendent of schools in the Houston Independent School District. He knows what it means to run a school district. And when we implement this bill, I can assure you, Rod is going to make sure that the spirit of "no child is left behind" is a part of the regulations. But this bill says there— one size doesn't fit all when it comes to public schools. It fosters change by pushing power to the lowest level, and that is at the local school districts, which should make the teachers in this audience feel good.

First of all, I want to thank all the teachers who are here. Yours is a noble profession, and thank you for taking on this tough job. But a system that devolves power says we've got to trust the teachers and principals to make the right decisions in the classrooms. And that's what this bill says.

This bill also wages a battle against illiteracy. It recognizes that spending money is important, but you need to spend money effectively in order to make a difference. We've spent a lot of money in education— a lot. And a lot of it hasn't made a difference. Well, one area where we're going to make a difference from this point forward in America is in reading—teaching every child to read.

The numbers for inner-city kids or impoverished—kids from impoverished families—their ability to read, or the illiteracy rate—let me put it to you that way—is astounding. It is pitiful. It is not right for America that over 60 percent of the children in the fourth grade from impoverished families cannot read. If you can't read in the fourth grade, you're not going to read in the eighth grade. And if you can't read in the eighth, you're not going to read in high school. And if you can't read, you've got a tough life ahead of you.

And we need to do something about it, America, and this bill does. It triples the amount of money for early reading programs, programs based upon the science of reading, not something that sounds good or feels good but something that works. There's money for teacher training. There's money for enhanced methodology. There's money that says we're going to stay focused until we teach every child to read by the third grade in America.

So those are the principles of a good bill. The bill is not only good for education, but it's a good go-by to show what can happen in Washington. And that's why the five of us—or the six of us, including Rod Paige—have been traveling around the Nation today, heralding the success—the joint success— the success of people from both political parties in both Houses of Congress. It shows what is possible when people say, "I want to get something done."

I know what's possible when it comes to educating children. You've seen it here in your own State, how the numbers have improved dramatically. It starts with an attitude that says public education is crucial; every child can learn; and we must set high standards. And that's what we've got to do in America, it seems like, all over the country.

After 9/11, a lot of people have asked, "What can I do to help? How can I make a difference in America?" Well, my advice is, first, love your children like you've never loved them before. Show them that they're the most important people in the world. But a way you can help America is to mentor a child, to teach a child to read. You can make sure your kids turn off your TV and read. You can make sure that you support the public school in your neighborhood. You can make sure you thank a teacher. You can help by going into classrooms, to make a difference.

If you're really interested in how to help fight terrorists, if you want to make sure that the terrorists aren't able to affect the heart and soul of America, support your public schools. Insist upon the best; demand accountability, because every child in America can learn. And when they do, this country is going to be a heck of a lot better off.

Thank you for letting me come. May God bless.

NOTE: The President spoke at 5:17 p.m. in the Roache Gymnasium. In his remarks, he referred to Cornelia A. Kelley, head master, Boston Latin School; Gov. Jane Swift of Massachusetts; and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston. H.R. 1, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, approved January 8, was assigned Public Law No. 107-110.

George W. Bush, Remarks at Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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