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pd16fe04 The President's Radio Address...

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[Page 227-232]
Pages 209	234
Week Ending Friday, February 13, 2004
Remarks in a Discussion on Parental Options and School Choice

February 13, 2004

    The President. Thank you, John. Listen, I'm thrilled to be here. I 
love to come to centers of excellence. This high school is a center of 
excellence. It is a school that--I was so pleased to hear that 98 
percent of the senior class will be going on to higher education. That 
is a--I would say that's what's called dashing false expectations, is 
the best way to put it.
    See, I would suspect that prior to coming to a place that demanded 
high standards and high excellence, people would say, ``Well, these 
certain kids can't learn.'' See, there's an attitude in our society that 
maybe certain children can't learn, so therefore let's have a system 
that just shuffles them through. But not at this school. This school 
believes in the worth and value of every child, that every child can 
learn. And therefore, this school is not afraid to raise expectations 
and set glorious heights and demand excellence. And as a result, you've 
achieved a startling achievement: 98 percent of the high school seniors 
are going to higher education.
    I want to congratulate you and congratulate Jim, congratulate the 
teachers, congratulate the parents but, most importantly, congratulate 
the students. I appreciate you setting goals and making the right 
choices to achieve those goals.
    This is a fabulous high school. It's a great place to come and talk 
about the expectations of our society. It's a great place to come and 
talk about how we can encourage people to achieve new heights. It's a 
good way to--it's a good place to come and talk about how you challenge 
the status quo when the status quo is promoting mediocrity. So thank you 
for letting me come.
    I appreciate so very much the Secretary of Education being here. 
He's going to say

[[Page 228]]

some words in a minute. You know, when I was looking for a Secretary of 
Education, I wasn't interested in finding a theorist, somebody who 
talked about the philosophy of the education or talking about somebody--
trying to find somebody who has actually done it. And he was the 
superintendent of schools in Harris County, which is Houston, Texas. He 
understands the philosophy behind the law that we just passed a year 
ago, a law I'm going to talk a little bit about. He's doing a great job. 
He's a good, sound man. I've known him for a long time. I'm proud that 
he's serving us. Thank you for coming, Rod. I'm glad you're here.
    I noticed Tom Davis and Rodney Frelinghuysen, who are with us today, 
Members of the United States Congress, who pushed for the initiative I'm 
going to describe. They're educational entrepreneurs. This is good 
legislation. I'm really proud of the work that you two gentleman have 
done on behalf of citizens and parents of this--of Washington, DC. It's 
really good legislation, and I want to thank you for your efforts.
    The Lieutenant Governor from Maryland, Michael Steele, is with us. 
He's a graduate of this fine high school. I appreciate you coming, 
    I appreciate his Excellency Kevin Farrell for coming, and please 
give Cardinal McCarrick my very best. There's no finer person in our 
country than Cardinal McCarrick, and I'm proud to call him friend. He's 
a decent, decent man. The bishop said that he was in Kosovo, and--
spreading love and American good will. No better person to do so than 
Cardinal McCarrick, by the way.
    Patty Weitzel-O'Neill is the superintendent. Thank you, Patty, for 
your hospitality. Elfreda Massie is the interim superintendent of DC 
public schools. Elfreda, thank you for being here. I want to assure you 
that the message you're going to hear today is one that says that all 
systems can achieve excellence. I believe that. I think it's very 
important for us to work not only in DC but around the country for a 
public school system that promotes excellence for every single child. 
And I want to thank you for your leadership and your willingness to take 
on a tough assignment. I appreciate you coming.
    And I want to thank the chairman of the board of the school. One of 
the toughest jobs in America is to be on the school board. You get all 
the complaints and none of the glory. But thank you and the board 
members for being here.
    I, again, want to thank the students so very much. We passed an 
interesting piece of legislation a couple of years ago called the No 
Child Left Behind Act. I love the sound of that because that's what I 
believe society must strive for. No child should be left behind. That 
kind of says some child or children may be being left behind, doesn't 
it? If the admonition is ``no child left behind,'' maybe some are, and I 
think they have been. And one of the reasons I think they have is 
because I don't think we've set the bar high enough.
    This society of ours must challenge what I've called the low--the 
soft bigotry of low expectations. That means when you lower the bar, 
when you don't believe in the human potential of a person, you're likely 
to get lousy results. So I think we need to raise the bar everywhere, 
just like you've done here at Archbishop High, to challenge every child.
    Then I think you've got to measure. See, I don't know how you know 
whether or not you're achieving excellence if you're not willing to 
measure. I hear people say around the country, ``I don't like tests.'' 
Well, I didn't like them either--[laughter]--you know? But that's just 
the way it is. If you're going to try to figure out whether a child can 
learn to read and write and add and subtract early in life, you better 
measure. You better find out early, before it's too late.
    A society that doesn't want to leave any child behind is a society 
which says, ``Show me whether or not the curriculum is working. Show me 
whether or not the school is doing what it's supposed to be doing.'' I 
suspect Archbishop High is good because it not only sets the bar, but 
you're willing to measure. And when you find a child that needs help, 
you provide that child help.
    That ought to be the--that ought to be the paradigm, to use a fancy 
word, for every school district in America. We need to raise

[[Page 229]]

the bar. And so what we said here in Washington, DC, is we're willing to 
spend more money, particularly on Title I students. But for the first 
time, the Federal Government is asking the question, ``Can you show us 
whether or not we're achieving objectives?''
    You see, we're tired of children being just shuffled through. It's 
time now to determine whether or not we're meeting the goal of, for 
example, every child reading at grade level by the third grade. That's 
not too much to ask, is it, for a society, to be able to read at grade 
level by third grade?
    So we set the goal. Now it's up to the school district to show us 
whether or not we're meeting the goal, and if not, there's extra money 
available to make sure that no child is left behind. But at some point 
in time, in order to challenge mediocrity where we find mediocrity, 
parents have to be given other options.
    And so the No Child Left Behind Act has got an interesting way of 
providing that for parents. We say, ``We measure. We post the scores. We 
look at results, and if the results don't measure up, a parent has got 
the ability to take extra money for tutorial work at a private 
institution or a public institution, or a parent can send a child to 
another public school.'' It's the beginnings of what's called school 
    But I didn't feel like, and Congress didn't feel like, and I know a 
lot of parents here in Washington didn't feel like that was enough. So 
we worked on a new initiative. It's an initiative that says, ``Here in 
Washington we want all aspects of schools to work, so there's money 
available for the public school system.'' And I want to thank the Mayor, 
by the way, for his involvement in this project. And he said, ``As 
you're talking about school choice, make sure you don't forget the other 
schools as well, see.'' And so we've got money available to make sure 
public education can do the best it can possibly do. There's money 
available for the charter school movement, which provides parents 
interesting options.
    But there's also a new approach here in Washington that I want to 
talk about today. It's an approach that says there are school systems 
that are capable of meeting expectations, and when a parent has a child 
trapped in a school that won't teach and won't change, we've got to 
liberate that family, got to give them options. So the Congress wisely--
and I might say with administration nudging or insistence--said, ``Why 
don't we provide a $7,500 scholarship for parents whose children go to--
low-income parents whose children go to schools that aren't working, so 
that that scholarship can follow the child to a place like Archbishop 
Carroll High School.'' And there's $14 million, some of it for 
administrative purposes, but 90 percent of it is going to go to the 
    This is an historic moment for education. It's the first time ever 
where the Federal Government has recognized that school choice is a 
viable alternative for parents. It's an opportunity for us to say to a 
mother or a dad, ``Here's your chance to achieve your expectation for 
your child.'' You see, a society that is responsible is one in which a 
mother and dad love their children with all their heart and all their 
soul. And a parent who does that wants the very best--the very best--for 
their children.
    And so this initiative is one that's the beginning of what I hope is 
change all across the country. It's the beginning of a go-by for other 
school districts and other communities. It says, ``Look, we want our 
public schools to succeed. We want them to do well, but we're going to 
raise the bar and raise expectations. And when we find children trapped 
in schools that will not change, parents must be given another viable 
option.'' And so here in DC, for the first time, hopefully starting this 
fall, parents will be given an option. When parents are dissatisfied, 
they will now have a chance to take scholarship money to send their 
child to a school of their choice.
    We've got some people here who understand what I'm talking about. 
We've got some grandmothers and moms and school-choice agitators. Well, 
I don't know, that's a little harsh, isn't it? Okay, advocates, 
advocates. Before we begin, I might ask the leader here about 
expectations. When a child comes to this school, tell me how you achieve 
98 percent graduates going to college.

[John T. Butler III, president, Archbishop Carroll High School, made 
brief remarks.]

[[Page 230]]

    The President. I appreciate the attitude. He's challenged the soft 
bigotry of low expectations by setting the bar high. You mentioned AP. 
You know, one of the things we need to do in America is to spread AP 
programs--that's called advanced placement programs. Those are high-
quality, high-expectation, high-achievement programs. Too often, though, 
in our communities, a parent will take a look and say, ``I don't--I'm 
not so sure I want to pay for the AP exam. My budget can't afford it.'' 
I think Government ought to help people pay for the AP exam. Low-income 
people ought not to fear their child taking an advanced placement exam 
because they can't afford the fee. That doesn't make any sense. Plus I 
think we need to have money available to help teachers teach the 
advanced placement program. It's one thing to aspire to advanced 
placement, but if you don't have a teacher who knows how to teach 
advanced placement, it's not going to become a reality.
    But I appreciate the AP program. AP programs work. The AP program is 
part of a challenging curriculum. And once you pass the AP, you're--
there's very little you can't accomplish, by the way. It means that 
you've excelled. I know you've got a lot of AP students here.
    Mr. Butler. We do. The faculty are really important in that regard 
as well. We are fortunate to have dedicated faculty who sacrifice a lot, 
and they give long hours to ensure that students are getting what they 
need. And they go beyond the call of duty, frankly, on a daily basis to 
ensure that they're providing support--even to today, we have students 
who are at Harvard, as a matter of fact. Our debate team is at Harvard.
    The President. Oh, I don't know what's so good about that. 
[Laughter] But----
    Mr. Butler. Well, I understand that you've spent some time there as 
    The President. Well, I mean, I thought he was going to say Yale. But 
you know, that's all right. No, that's good, they're at Harvard. Yes. 
    Mr. Butler. It is.
    The President. Yes, I went there, okay--much to the shock of some of 
the press corps. [Laughter]
    Mr. Butler. But I think giving our young people opportunities to get 
out of the building and get to universities in this community but 
outside of this community as well really helps to reinforce that. It 
also helps, too, to have alums such as Michael Steele--I'm glad he's 
with us today--to hold up as an example of what happens when you work 
    The President. Michael, good. Listen, Rod, why don't you share some 
thoughts. Rod--Rod took--I told you, he took on a tough assignment. And 
I will tell you the children in Houston, Texas, benefited from his 
leadership. And he's a good, solid citizen.

[Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige made brief remarks.]

    The President. I appreciate you--thank you, Mr. Secretary.
    Local control of schools is important because innovation oftentimes 
takes place in spite of government. Archbishop Carroll, obviously, has 
been able to survive without government telling them what to do, and 
you're doing what's right.
    But the other thing about local control of schools is the more power 
there is at the local level, the more parents have an opportunity to 
change things. And so one of the key components of the No Child Left 
Behind Act is that it's up to you to chart the path to excellence. We 
just want to know, see? That's all we're asking.
    The Federal Government is finally saying, ``Show us whether or not 
you're achieving the objectives, but you figure it out.'' And it's 
amazing what happens when parents decide to get involved. A lot of 
parents think everything is fine with their school until the test scores 
show up, until there's comparison, until they take a look at--across 
boundaries. Say, in DC, I bet there's a lot of folks wondering why my 
school doesn't have a 98 percent college attendance with the seniors. So 
information is important, but empowering parents is important.
    Virginia Walden Ford is with us today. She is--she is a great 
citizen in that she's willing to seize the moment to try to effect 
change. She's a tireless worker on behalf of children and parents. She's 
somebody who has made a difference. I want to welcome you here, 
Virginia. Tell us about your family. Tell us

[[Page 231]]

about what you're doing. Tell us about how you got involved with the 
Parents for Choice. She's the executive director, by the way, for 
Parents for Choice in DC movement.

[Virginia Walden Ford, executive director, D.C. Parents for School 
Choice, made brief remarks.]

    The President. One person can make a difference. Now Virginia has 
got to make sure that the parents who want to learn how the program 
works can find a resource. I know you will. There's--this--for example, 
this might stimulate a few phone calls. I suspect there's going to be 
some mothers and dads wanting to contact you to find out how the program 
works. How do you apply for the $7,500 scholarship? What does it take to 
be eligible? And how do we get the scholarship money out? We'll help. I 
know you got an advertising campaign getting ready to go.
    Mrs. Walden Ford. We do. We have a bus campaign that begins on 
Monday. This past week, we spent time sending out forms, just asking 
parents to call for information, thousands of them. So we are in the 
field. We are activists. And I'm not embarrassed about being called----
    The President. I said ``agitators,'' don't change it. [Laughter]
    Mrs. Walden Ford. Oh, okay--I'm not embarrassed. Well, I was----
    The President. That's not a bad word.
    Mrs. Walden Ford. Look, look, Congressman Davis, I think I was a 
little bit of an agitator too. [Laughter] But when you believe in 
something, you fight for it, or you raise your voice and get on--and I 
know we got on Congressman's nerves. I know we did. But that was okay 
because we got it done.
    The President. I do too, occasionally, myself, you know? [Laughter]

[Mrs. Walden Ford made further remarks.]

    The President. Good job, thank you. Catherine Hill is with us today. 
Catherine is raising a niece, a nephew, and two grandsons. She is a--
thank you for being here, Catherine. Would you mind sharing with us some 
of your thoughts?

[Catherine L. Hill, aunt and grandparent of DC students, made brief 

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