[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George H. W. Bush (1991, Book I)]
[April 18, 1991]
[Pages 395-399]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Address to the Nation on the National Education Strategy
April 18, 1991

    Thank you all for joining us here in the White House today. Let me 
thank the Speaker for being with us, and the majority leader; other 
distinguished Members, committee heads and ranking members, and very 
important education committees here with us today. I want to salute the 
Governors, the educators, the business and the labor leaders, and 
especially want to single out the National Teachers of the Year. I 
believe we have 10 of the previous 11 Teachers of the Year with us here 
today, and that's most appropriate and most fitting.
    But together, all of us, we will underscore the importance of a 
challenge destined to define the America that we'll know in the next 
    For those of you close to my age, the 21st century has always been a 
kind of shorthand for the distant future--the place we put our most far-
off hopes and dreams. And

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today, that 21st century is racing towards us--and anyone who wonders 
what the century will look like can find the answer in America's 
    Nothing better defines what we are and what we will become than the 
education of our children. To quote the landmark case Brown versus Board 
of Education, ``It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected 
to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.''
    Education has always meant opportunity. Today, education determines 
not just which students will succeed but also which nations will thrive 
in a world united in pursuit of freedom in enterprise. Think about the 
changes transforming our world: the collapse of communism and the cold 
war, the advent and acceleration of the Information Age. Down through 
history, we've defined resources as soil and stones, land and the riches 
buried beneath. No more. Our greatest national resource lies within 
ourselves: our intelligence, ingenuity, the capacity of the human mind.
    Nations that nurture ideas will move forward in years to come. 
Nations that stick to stale old notions and ideologies will falter and 
fail. So I'm here today to say America will move forward. The time for 
all the reports and rankings, for all the studies and the surveys about 
what's wrong in our schools is past. If we want to keep America 
competitive in the coming century, we must stop convening panels to 
report on ourselves. We must stop convening panels that report the 
obvious. And we must accept responsibility for educating everyone among 
us, regardless of background or disability.
    If we want America to remain a leader, a force for good in the 
world, we must lead the way in educational innovation. And if we want to 
combat crime and drug abuse, if we want to create hope and opportunity 
in the bleak corners of this country where there is now nothing but 
defeat and despair, we must dispel the darkness with the enlightenment 
that a sound and well-rounded education provides.
    Think about every problem, every challenge we face. The solution to 
each starts with education. For the sake of the future of our children, 
and of the Nation's, we must transform America's schools. The days of 
the status quo are over.
    Across this country, people have started to transform the American 
school. They know that the time for talk is over. Their slogan is: Don't 
dither, just do it. Let's push the reform effort forward. Use each 
experiment, each advance to build for the next American century--new 
schools for a new world.
    As a first step in this strategy, we must challenge not only the 
methods and the means that we've used in the past but also the 
yardsticks that we've used to measure our progress. Let's stop trying to 
measure progress in terms of money spent. We spend 33 percent more per 
pupil in 1991 than we did in 1981--33 percent more in real, constant 
dollars. And I don't think there's a person anywhere, anywhere in the 
country, who would say that we've seen a 33-percent improvement in our 
schools' performance.
    Dollar bills don't educate students. Education depends on committed 
communities, determined to be places where learning will flourish; 
committed teachers, free from the noneducational burdens; committed 
parents, determined to support excellence; committed students, excited 
about school and learning. To those who want to see real improvement in 
American education, I say: There will be no renaissance without 
    We who would be revolutionaries must accept responsibilities for our 
schools. For too long, we've adopted a no-fault approach to education. 
Someone else is always to blame. And while we point fingers out there, 
trying to assign blame, the students suffer. There's no place for a no-
fault attitude in our schools. It's time we held our schools--and 
ourselves--accountable for results.
    Until now, we've treated education like a manufacturing process, 
assuming that if the gauges seemed right--if we had good pay scales, the 
right pupil-teacher ratios--good students would just pop out of our 
schools. It's time to turn things around--to focus on students, to set 
standards for our schools and let teachers and principals figure out how 
best to meet them.

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    We've made a good beginning by setting the Nation's sights on six 
ambitious national education goals--and setting for our target the year 
2000. Our goals have been forged in partnership with the Nation's 
Governors, several of whom are with us here today in the East Room. And 
those who have taken a leadership are well-known to everyone in this 
room. And for those who need a refresher course--there may be a quiz 
later on--let me list those goals right now.
    By 2000, we've got to, first, ensure that every child starts school 
ready to learn; second one, raise the high school graduation rate to 90 
percent; the third one, ensure that each American student leaving the 
4th, 8th, and 12th grades can demonstrate competence in core subjects; 
four, make our students first in the world in math and science 
achievements; fifth, ensure that every American adult is literate and 
has the skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the 
rights and responsibilities of citizenship; and sixth, liberate every 
American school from drugs and violence so that schools encourage 
    Our strategy to meet these noble national goals is founded in common 
sense and common values. It's ambitious and yet, with hard work, it's 
within our reach. And I can outline our strategy in one paragraph, and 
here it is: For today's students, we must make existing schools better 
and more accountable. For tomorrow's students, the next generation, we 
must create a new generation of American schools. For all of us, for the 
adults who think our school days are over, we've got to become a nation 
of students--recognize learning is a lifelong process. Finally, outside 
our schools we must cultivate communities where learning can happen. 
That's our strategy.
    People who want Washington to solve our educational problems are 
missing the point. We can lend appropriate help through such programs as 
Head Start. But what happens here in Washington won't matter half as 
much as what happens in each school, each local community, and yes, in 
each home. Still, the Federal Government will serve as a catalyst for 
change in several important ways.
    Working closely with the Governors, we will define new world-class 
standards for schools, teachers, and students in the five core subjects: 
math and science, English, history and geography. We will develop 
voluntary--let me repeat it--we will develop voluntary national tests 
for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders in the five core subjects. These American 
Achievement Tests will tell parents and educators, politicians, and 
employers just how well our schools are doing. I'm determined to have 
the first of these tests for fourth graders in place by the time that 
school starts in September of 1993. And for high school seniors, let's 
add another incentive--a distinction sure to attract attention of 
colleges and companies in every community across the country--a 
Presidential Citation to students who excel on the 12th-grade test.
    We can encourage educational excellence by encouraging parental 
choice. The concept of choice draws its fundamental strength from the 
principle at the very heart of the democratic idea. Every adult American 
has the right to vote, the right to decide where to work, where to live. 
It's time parents were free to choose the schools that their children 
attend. This approach will create the competitive climate that 
stimulates excellence in our private and parochial schools as well.
    But the centerpiece of our national education strategy is not a 
program, it's not a test. It's a new challenge: To reinvent American 
education--to design new American schools for the year 2000 and beyond. 
The idea is simple but powerful: Put America's special genius for 
invention to work for America's schools. I will challenge communities to 
become what we will call America 2000 communities. Governors will honor 
communities with this designation if the communities embrace the 
national education goals, create local strategies for reaching these 
goals, devise report cards for measuring progress, and agree to 
encourage and support one of the new generation of America's schools.
    We must also foster educational innovation. I'm delighted to 
announce today that America's business leaders, under the chairmanship 
of Paul O'Neill, will create the New American Schools Development 
Corporation, a private sector research and de-

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velopment fund of at least $150 million to generate innovation in 
    This fund offers an open-end challenge to the dreamers and the doers 
eager to reinvent, eager to reinvigorate our schools. With the results 
of this R&D in hand, I will urge Congress to provide $1 million in 
startup funds for each of the 535 New American Schools--at least one in 
every congressional district--and have them up and running by 1996.
    The New American Schools must be more than rooms full of children 
seated at computers. If we mean to prepare our children for life, 
classrooms also must cultivate values and good character--give real 
meaning to right and wrong.
    We ask only two things of these architects of our New American 
Schools: that their students meet the new national standards for the 
five core subjects, and that outside of the costs of the initial 
research and development, the schools operate on a budget comparable to 
conventional schools. The architects of the New American Schools should 
break the mold. Build for the next century. Reinvent--literally start 
from scratch and reinvent the American school. No question should be off 
limits, no answers automatically assumed. We're not after one single 
solution for every school. We're interested in finding every way to make 
schools better.
    There's a special place in inventing the New American School for the 
corporate community, for business and labor. And I invite you to work 
with us not simply to transform our schools but to transform every 
American adult into a student.
    Fortunately, we have a secret weapon in America's system of colleges 
and universities--the finest in the entire world. The corporate 
community can take the lead by creating a voluntary private system of 
world-class standards for the workplace. Employers should set up skill 
centers where workers can seek advice and learn new skills. But most 
importantly, every company and every labor union must bring the worker 
into the classroom and bring the classroom into the workplace.
    We'll encourage every Federal agency to do the same. And to prove no 
one's ever too old to learn, Lamar, with his indefatigable determination 
and leadership, has convinced me to become a student again myself. 
Starting next week, I'll begin studying. And I want to know how to 
operate a computer. [Laughter] Very candidly--I don't expect this new 
tutorial to teach me how to set the clock on the VCR or anything 
complicated. [Laughter] But I want to be computer literate, and I'm not. 
There's a lot of kids, thank God, that are. And I want to learn, and I 
    The workplace isn't the only place we must improve opportunities for 
education. Across this nation, we must cultivate communities where 
children can learn--communities where the school is more than a refuge, 
more than a solitary island of calm amid chaos. Where the school is the 
living center of a community where people care--people care for each 
other and their futures--not just in the school but in the neighborhood, 
not just in the classroom but in the home.
    Our challenge amounts to nothing less than a revolution in American 
education--a battle for our future. And now, I ask all Americans to be 
Points of Light in the crusade that counts the most: the crusade to 
prepare our children and ourselves for the exciting future that looms 
    What I've spoken about this afternoon are the broad strokes of this 
national education strategy: accountable schools for today, a new 
generation of schools for tomorrow, a nation of students committed to a 
lifetime of learning, and communities where all our children can learn.
    There are four people here today who symbolize each element of this 
strategy and point the way forward for our reforms. Esteban Pagan--
Steve--an award-winning eighth-grade student in science and history at 
East Harlem Tech, a choice school. Steve? Right here, I think. Stand up, 
    Mike Hopkins, lead teacher in the Saturn School in St. Paul, 
Minnesota, where teachers have already helped reinvent the American 
school. Mike, where are you? Right here, sir. Thank you.
    David Kelley, a high-tech troubleshooter at the Michelin Tire plant 
in Greenville, South Carolina. David has spent the equivalent of 1 full 
year of his 4 years at Michelin

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back at his college expanding his skills. David? There he is.
    Finally, Michelle Moore, of Missouri, a single mother active in 
Missouri's Parents as Teachers program. She wants her year-old son, 
Alston, to arrive for his first day of school ready to learn. Michelle?
    So, to sum it up, for these four people and for all the others like 
them, the revolution in American education has already begun. Now I ask 
all Americans to be Points of Light in the crusade that counts the most: 
the crusade to prepare our children and ourselves for the exciting 
future that looms ahead. At any moment in every mind, the miracle of 
learning beckons us all. Between now and the year 2000, there is not one 
moment or one miracle to waste.
    Thank you all. Thank you for your interest, for your dedication. And 
may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

                    Note: The President spoke at 2 p.m. in the East Room 
                        at the White House. In his remarks, he referred 
                        to Thomas S. Foley, Speaker of the House of 
                        Representatives; Richard A. Gephardt, House 
                        majority leader; Paul H. O'Neill, chairman and 
                        chief executive officer of the Aluminum Co. of 
                        America and Chairman of the President's 
                        Education Policy Advisory Committee; and 
                        Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander.