[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George W. Bush (2008, Book I)]
[January 7, 2008]
[Pages 32-36]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at Horace Greeley Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois
January 7, 2008

    The President. Thank you all. Please be seated. Thank you very much 
for coming. I am so honored to be at Horace Greeley. People say, ``Why 
would you want to come to Horace Greeley?'' Because it's a center of 
excellence. It's a place for this country to realize what is possible 
when you have a good principal that's supported by the community, when 
you've got teachers who work hard and students willing to learn.
    Coming with me today is the Secretary of Education, Margaret 
Spellings. Madam Secretary, I'm honored 
you're here. She's--she and I share the same philosophy. It starts with 
our refusal to accept school systems that do not teach every child how 
to read and write and add and subtract and our firm belief that local 
folks can figure out the best way to chart a path to excellence.
    I'm proud that Congressman Rahm Emanuel 
is here. Mr. Congressman, thank you. As you know, we're from different 
political parties. [Laughter] But we share a common concern, and that is 
doing what's right for America. We--both of us understand that 
educational excellence is not a partisan issue; it is an issue that is 
important for the future of this country. So, Congressman, I'm proud 
you're here.

[[Page 33]]

    I'm also proud to be here with His Honor, Mayor Daley. I've come to know the mayor over 7 years of 
being your President. The first thing I learned about him: It's better 
to have him for you than against you when you run for office. [Laughter] 
He loves his city, and he's, in my judgment, one of our Nation's best 
mayors. He also has taken advantage of a reform that gave mayors the 
capability of setting the tone and the pace for education in our big 
cities. Some of the best reforms in America have taken place when the 
mayor has taken the lead, and, Mr. Mayor, you have certainly taken the 
    And I'm proud of your passion. I can remember visiting with you 
earlier on--about education, before No Child Left Behind came into 
being. And the mayor had this strong sense 
and strong feeling that this country needed to do something differently 
if we wanted to make sure every child got a good education.
    I'm proud to be here with Rufus Williams. 
He's a Chicago Board of Education man. I appreciate you being here, 
Rufus. And I also want to thank Arne Duncan. 
These two men are very much involved in making sure that if something is 
working, it is enhanced, and if something is not working, it is changed 
for the sake of our children. Every good school--every school that 
succeeds--by the way, it's a blue ribbon school. So I asked Margaret--like, I remember coming up; everybody was 
a blue ribbon school. I don't know if you remember those days. It was 
kind of a feel-good era. Just say, okay, you're a blue ribbon school, 
and everybody feels better about education.
    There's less than 300 blue ribbon schools across America this year. 
I think--what did you say, 13----
    Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Two hundred and thirty-nine public schools.
    The President. Two thirty-nine public schools are blue ribbon 
schools and maybe a dozen here in the State of Illinois. This is one of 
the blue ribbon schools. It's a blue ribbon school because it's 
excelling; it's meeting standards. And one of the reasons is, it's got a 
fine principal in Carlos. I'm proud to be 
with you, Carlos. Carlos understands that we have got to set high 
standards for our children and work with the teachers to achieve those 
    I was honored to go to some of the classes. It was--it's exciting to 
go back to the classroom. One of my messages is to the teachers: America 
can't thank you enough for teaching. It's truly important to--for our 
teachers to be thanked. It's also important for parents to be involved, 
and for those of you who are parents, thank you for being here today.
    Tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of the day that I signed the No 
Child Left Behind Act into law. And since that day, we've come a long 
way. Fewer students are falling behind. People are beginning to get used 
to the notion that there's accountability in the public school system. 
Now, look, I recognize some people don't like accountability. In other 
words, accountability says, if you're failing, we're going to expose 
that and expect you to change. Accountability also says that when you're 
succeeding, you'll get plenty of praise.
    I think it's--I know No Child Left Behind has worked. And I believe 
this country needs to build upon the successes. The philosophy behind No 
Child Left Behind was, in return for money, there ought to be results. 
It's pretty commonsensical, it seems like to me. That's what the mayor 
asks when he is running his city. That's what corporations ask: If we're 
going to spend money, are we going to get a return on the money? That's 
what our schools ought to be asking too.
    In other words, in return--and I--you know, I was an old Governor of 
a State. I didn't particularly like it when the Federal Government got 
involved with my business. I felt Texas could pretty well handle it on 
her own. On the other hand, I recognize that if we're spending Federal

[[Page 34]]

money, that we ought to be held to account for that money. And there's 
some Federal money involved in education, and it makes sense for those 
of us in Washington to say, ``Sure, we'll spend it, but we want to make 
sure that that money is being spent for a good reason.'' And there's no 
better reason than to teach every single child how to read, write, and 
add and subtract.
    And so we have set standards, expectations. And by the way, I 
believe if you have low expectations, you're going to get lousy results. 
As a matter of fact, I know that's what's going to happen. But if you 
have high expectations, it's amazing what can happen.
    This school, Horace Greeley, set high expectations. It's easy to set 
low expectations, you know. It's easy to consign a whole group of 
students to mediocrity. That's the easy way out. What No Child Left 
Behind says, is that we're going to take the hard way. We're going to 
set high standards, and then we're going to measure to determine whether 
or not those standards are being met. It's really important to measure. 
It's also important to disaggregate results, which is like a fancy word 
for, we want to know whether or not each student is learning. We want to 
make sure that no child is left behind.
    Horace Greeley measures, and they measure for a reason. They want to 
know, first of all, whether or not the curriculum is working, whether or 
not the instruction is working. And they also want to know whether or 
not they can--they need to tailor specific programs to meet the needs of 
specific children. One reason this school is a blue ribbon school: It is 
not afraid of accountability. It views the accountability system as a 
tool to enhance excellence. And so do I.
    Now, the other thing that's important is, is that the accountability 
system allows each school to know where it stands relative to another 
school. You know, from my time as Governor, I can remember parents 
saying: ``Oh, my school is doing just fine. I like my school, 
Governor.'' And then all of a sudden, the test scores came out--
sometimes a school wasn't doing just fine. Sometimes--not sometimes, all 
the time, accountability lays out the truth. There's nothing better, in 
my judgment, to making sure that we have a educated workforce and 
everybody has a hopeful future than to just lay out some simple truths.
    And one of the simple truths is, can this child read at grade level 
at the appropriate time? That's a simple truth. Another one is, can the 
person add and subtract at the appropriate time? And if so, we'll say 
thank you. And if not, the system ought to say, we better change early, 
before it's too late.
    I found too often that in some schools, like in my State, it was 
just easy to move them through, you know; let's just shuffle people 
through. That's why--I can remember somebody standing up and saying, 
``No Child Left Behind Act is really one of the civil rights--it's a 
civil rights piece of legislation,'' because this person was sick and 
tired of the day when people were just moved through the school system, 
without wondering whether or not the child could read and write and add 
and subtract.
    Test results are all a part of making sure we achieve a great 
national goal, and that is, every child be at grade level by 2014. The 
other thing it does is, as you measure, it lets us know how we're doing 
as a nation. There's an achievement gap in America that's just not 
acceptable. That means Anglo students are more proficient at reading 
than Latinos or African American students. It's just not acceptable for 
our country. It's an indication to me that there is something wrong, and 
it needs to be addressed now.
    And so--but we measure for that reason. We want to know whether or 
not this Nation is going to be competitive and whether or not it's going 
to be hopeful. And the achievement gap said, here's a problem. But the 
good news is, is that because of high standards and accountability 
throughout this country, the achievement gap is

[[Page 35]]

closing. We have what's called a National Report Card. One of 
Margaret's jobs is to herald the 
successes or failures of the National Report Card. Eighth graders set a 
record high for math scores last year. Our fourth graders are--more and 
more fourth graders are learning to read at grade level. Scores for 
minority and poorer students are reaching alltime highs in a number of 
areas, and the achievement gap is closing. If we didn't measure, we 
wouldn't know; we'd be just guessing, and it's not worthwhile to guess 
when a child's future is at stake.
    The other thing that's interesting about measurement is that when 
you find a problem, there will be resources like after-school tutoring 
to help a child address those problems. And it's important to do this 
early, rather than late. People who have been involved in education can 
tell you that a school system that doesn't test and doesn't measure 
oftentimes wakes up at the end of the process and says, we need remedial 
education as the child heads into high school or out of high school. 
That's just not acceptable anymore. The world is too competitive to have 
a lax system in place. And we don't now, with No Child Left Behind.
    And so now is the time for Congress to reauthorize it. I'm sure a 
lot of people look around the country and say, it's impossible for 
Congress and the President to work together. I strongly disagree. We 
worked together to get the bill written in the first place, and I 
believe we can work together to get it reauthorized. If it's not 
reauthorized, then I've instructed our Secretary to move forward on some reforms or to analyze 
reforms that she can do through the administrative process. If Congress 
passes a bill that weakens the accountability system in the No Child 
Left Behind Act, I will strongly oppose it and veto it because the act 
will continue on. In other words, this act isn't expiring, it just needs 
to be reauthorized.
    And what are some of the things we can do? Margaret has been listening to Members of Congress, but 
equally importantly, she's been listening to Governors and local school 
boards. We need to increase the flexibility for our States and 
districts. We don't want the No Child Left Behind Act to be viewed as 
something that hamstrings innovation. There ought to be flexibility in 
the system. We're going to provide help for struggling schools--extra 
help. We want to make sure that a high school degree means something. We 
don't want people getting out of high school and it's not meaning 
    She's been talking with Members of 
Congress to give schools credit for growth and achievement that 
individual students make from year to year--in other words, flexibility 
in the accountability system without undermining the core principle of 
accountability. We're going to implement a more accurate system for 
measuring high school dropout rate and make it easier for our students 
to enroll in the tutoring programs. There's things we can do, and must 
do, by working together.
    I am optimistic about the country because I come to places like 
Horace Greeley Elementary School, a little center of excellence, a place 
where, you know, some might say, ``Well, these kids can't possibly 
achieve such high standards.'' But, in fact, they are. This is a school 
that's got a significant number of Latinos whose families may not speak 
English as a first language. This is a school where there's some newly 
arrived to our country here. This is a school that is exceeding 
expectations because of high standards and using the accountability 
system as a tool to make sure that no child is left behind.
    It is my honor to be with you. Thank you for letting me come and 
share our philosophy about how to achieve educational excellence for 
every student. God bless.

Note: The President spoke at 10:46 a.m. In his remarks, he referred to 
Carlos G.

[[Page 36]]

Azcoitia, principal, Horace Greeley Elementary School; Mayor Richard M. 
Daley of Chicago, IL; Rufus Williams, president, Chicago Board of 
Education; and Arne Duncan, chief executive officer, Chicago Public