Remarks for the 2001 National Education Summit

Palisades, New York

Tuesday, October 9, 2001


Good afternoon. Welcome to our third National Education Summit.


I want to thank our sponsoring organization, Achieve, and I want to thank this distinguished audience for being here in light of what happened in New York and our nation four weeks ago.


We were not intimidated, and we did not cancel what's been in the planning since February. Rather we have shown our determination to do the work that needs doing and to make America stronger!


It's fitting - is it not? - that we meet just 30 miles upriver from Lower Manhattan!


Governor Pataki, let me say on behalf of fellow governors and on behalf of the people of Michigan, and I know I speak for Lou as well: We are proud of the way you and fellow New Yorkers have responded to the crisis. You are an inspiration to us and to the whole civilized world.


Let's begin by putting recent events in perspective. If I say to you that:

  • America experienced a severe shock to its security and well-being.
  • The skies over the nation no longer seem to be ours.
  • An event of great magnitude unfolded within the span of about 100 dramatic minutes.
  • That event ushered in a new era.
  • As a result, every aspect of American life was changed -- political, military, technological, scientific, and educational.
  • Every single American child felt the impact.


If I said all that to you, you would quite properly think: September 11. But you could also think of another day - October 4, 1957. That was the day an object the size of a basketball was launched into space by the Soviets.


It was called Sputnik, and it was a turning point in American and world history. It took Sputnik only about 100 minutes to orbit the earth - but that one orbit launched the space age.


Many of us were young then, and Sputnik had a direct impact on our education. In the late 1950s and '60s, our nation's education establishment made a thorough re-evaluation of science, math, and engineering education. Suddenly the public was insisting on higher academic standards, harder tests, and many other reforms that sound familiar today.


The point I want to stress is that Americans in 2001, as in 1957, are focused. We are in a new war. We want to secure ourselves from enemies external and internal. Ignorance, lack of knowledge, poorly developed skills - these are the kinds of internal enemy we can do something about.


We know that education must play a central role in the defense of our nation. Our schools must produce the people who have the math, science, and engineering skills to keep our defenses strong. Our classrooms must also successfully transmit American culture to young people.

Our children need to understand our history, Constitution, virtues as a people, and exceptionalism as a nation.


To know America is to love her. To love her is to want to defend her.


Fortunately, we have made good progress on the "education front" since the first National Education Summit five years ago.

  • In 1996, only about a dozen states had developed standards in core subjects; today 49 states have.
  • What is more, the standards are higher today than they were in 1996. The best of the 1996 standards would be in about the middle of the pack today.
  • The tests themselves have become more rigorous, requiring students to demonstrate that they've met high standards. Many more tests include questions that require an essay or short answer. The students have to write.
  • Since 1996, many more states are holding schools to stricter accountability. There are more incentives in place for districts, schools, and students to improve.
  • For a good summary of national, state, and district gains, I refer you to pages 2 and 3 of your blue notebook.


Before leaving the topic, let me mention, by way of example, the progress we've made in Michigan - the objectively measured, verifiable progress we've made in the area of test scores:

  • Last spring, we greeted the news that Michigan students placed first in the nation in math and science achievement. And this was internationally benchmarked by the Third International Math and Science Study [TIMSS].
  • In August, we noted with pride that Michigan fourth and eighth graders who took the math portion of the NAEP [National Assessment for Education Progress] test scored above the national average. In fact, only five states outscored our fourth graders, and only four states scored significantly higher than our eighth graders.
  • Michigan high schoolers, on average, do better than kids from other states on the ACT and SAT. What is even better news is that, on average, more students are taking the tests than in years past.
  • All the while we are getting better results across the board on our state MEAP tests - from elementary and middle to high school students.


Michigan and other states have made good progress, but there is much still to do. Building on our progress to date, I would like for you to peruse another section of the blue notebook - Section V - the Statement of Principles.


This year's summit is proposing three sets of principles for discussion and adoption. These principles were developed with the aim of raising the bar and closing the achievement gap.


The first set of principles has to do with measuring results. It's making sure that every state, every district, every school has clear and rigorous standards; that students are tested to see how well they meet these standards; and that families, communities, and policymakers know how to interpret the results.


This is a call for clarity - there should be no tolerance for gobbledygook. You can only mobilize families and communities if they can clearly see who needs help and what needs doing.


The second set of principles has to do with strengthening accountability. There needs to be not just talk, but real consequences for success and failure. At the same time, all students need to have an equal opportunity to achieve high standards. Policymakers will no doubt want to direct resources to schools that have large numbers of kids who are not making the grade.


Yet there must be tough but fair sanctions for failing schools. Failure is not an option.

President Bush has made it clear that we cannot fail in the war against terrorism. Likewise, we cannot fail in the campaign to educate our children.


The third set of principles has to do with our teachers, many of them unsung heroes. On September 11, Americans learned of the public school teachers who moved some 8,000 children away from endangered schools near the World Trade Center. We stand in admiration and appreciation of their efforts.


Our nation needs to do even more to create, develop, and sustain a dedicated teaching force.

They spend a lot of time with our children. I am alarmed that almost 100 percent of urban high schools report a shortage of math and science teachers.


Many teachers are asked to teach classes in which they don't feel they've been adequately prepared. That has got to change. The teaching profession must be made more attractive to our best college students and to people with experience in professions other than teaching people who might be open to a career change.


Lou Gerstner should be able to teach economics and business classes. George Pataki should be able to teach government classes. We can do more to ensure we have the greatest teaching corps in the world.


I also want to see improvements among other key players in education reform. Superintendents, for example. Here I'd like to thank Eli Broad for his vision and commitment in creating the Broad Center for Urban Superintendents.


It is based in Michigan. The idea is to attract talented men and women who have been successful in other careers and prepare them in a year-long program to be dynamic, effective school superintendents. My challenge to every CEO in this room is to identify and sponsor men and women who have the vision, drive, and leadership skills to run an urban school district.

Let's cultivate the leaders who are desperately needed to improve our urban schools.


Because we are holding this summit at a time of national crisis, we understand how important it is to support our President. He has a plan for fighting not just the external enemy - the terrorists - but the internal enemies I mentioned earlier - ignorance, lack of knowledge, and poorly developed skills.


The President's education strategy - especially his call for higher standards and more accountability - dovetails with our goals. We need to support him.


Speaking of eminent leaders, I now have the great honor of introducing my fellow co-chair, Lou Gerstner.  Lou is the chairman and CEO of IBM, and he has been in the thick of school reform for thirty years. It's no secret that he is the leading voice in the business community for education reform.He co-hosted the first National Education Summit in 1996, and the second as well.


The first Summit, incidentally, followed an unforgettable speech that Lou gave at the NGA summer meeting. He really knows how to rally the troops.


So please join me in welcoming Lou Gerstner!