Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the Beginning of the National Partnerships in Education Program

October 13, 1983

The President. Secretary Bell and Assistant Secretary Korb, [Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and Lawrence J. Korb, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower, Installations and Logistics], ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and welcome. It's a pleasure to have you all here. I confess I get a little nervous with so many presidents and chief executive officers in the room. Who's tending the store? [Laughter]

May I also say hello to those who are joining us by way of closed-circuit television -- the students and teachers of the Congress Heights Elementary School here in Washington. It's good to be talking to Congress Heights and to welcome all of you here for this important ceremony here at the White House. It's a home that belongs to you and to all Americans.

America's always had a love affair with learning. From polished men of letters like Thomas Jefferson to humble self-taught people like Abe Lincoln and from inventors like Thomas Edison to visionaries like Martin Luther King, Americans have put their faith in the power of education to enrich lives and to make our nation strong. We see the evidence of this in many fine schools, like Congress Heights, with thousands of dedicated superintendents, principals, and teachers. But we also face tremendous problems.

Between 1963 and 1980, Scholastic Aptitude Test scores were in a virtually unbroken decline. Too many of our States demanded too little of their students, imposing lax graduation requirements. And compared to students in other industrialized nations, many of ours performed badly. Yet even as we've recognized the challenge, our nation has begun to respond.

One of our administration's first priorities was to establish a National Commission on Excellence in Education. And we asked it to help us chart a new course that would permit us to correct the mistakes of the past. Even before the Commission released its report, grassroots America had begun to move. Since 1980 no fewer than 20 States have passed tougher certification laws so that only fully qualified teachers can enter the classroom. In about the same period, more than half the school districts in the country have raised the number of credits they require in such basics as English, science, and math. And 38 percent more school districts will upgrade their standards by 1985.

Throughout the land, parents, teachers, and school officials have begun vigorous work to improve the fundamentals -- not fancy budget structures, not frills in the curriculum, but teaching and learning. To quote Secretary Bell: ``What's going on now represents the greatest, most far-reaching, and most promising reform and renewal of education since the turn of the century.'' One aspect of this great renewal is the reason we're gathered here today.

Across the country groups of working men and women have been forming partnerships with schools -- partnerships in dedication. To form a partnership, volunteers from a business, a government agency, or other organization strike an agreement with a school to develop programs that will help the school's students in a number of basic ways. The volunteers might tutor students, establish scholarship funds, donate furnishings and equipment, or teach classes.

In Dallas over a thousand businesses have formed partnerships with 175 schools, and in Chicago, 133 organizations have formed partnerships with 140 schools. San Diego's schools benefit from partnerships with groups including the Chargers and the Padres and the United States Navy. One way the Navy helps students in San Diego, incidentally, is by arranging for pen pals. And I can't imagine anything that sparks a volunteer's -- or a youngster's imagination, I should say, more than a letter from a sailor describing far-off lands or islands in the South Pacific or even a sunrise at sea.

But let's remember, all those partnerships already established still involve only a few thousand American schools out of a total of some 110,000. So, today I'm issuing a challenge to America to ensure our children get the education they deserve. Let us resolve that every one of our country's public, private, and parochial schools and community colleges -- all 110,000 of them -- will have formed a partnership in education. The goal is lofty, but well within the reach of the Nation that can send men to the Moon.

I know that this room is filled with men and women from business and education who've helped create partnerships in education in their communities. To you, on behalf of all Americans, thank you: large companies like Xerox, IBM, Federal Express, General Motors, and CNA Insurance; organizations like the American Bar Association, the Professional Engineering Societies, and the National Association of Manufacturers; and let's not forget the smaller companies like thousands of Burger King restaurants, local Radio Shack stores, and the group and cable TV stations. There're, also, innovative programs in private schools like Philadelphia's parochial schools and Providence-St. Mel in Chicago. And to the leaders of the three TV networks who are here today, thank you for your commitment to partnerships in education.

But we all know there's much more to be done. Everyone must get involved. So, I'm directing the Federal Government to promote partnerships in education in every way that it can. Last week I signed a proclamation naming the 1983 - 84 school year the National Year of Partnerships in Education. My Special Assistant you met here, Jim Coyne, and his staff will work on the program throughout the year. They'll be working with State governments, industry organizations, business associations, and other groups, and working with a nationwide computer system called DATA/NET to help schools and partners get together.

I intend to sign a memorandum asking the heads of all departments and agencies of the Federal Government to follow the example of those sailors in San Diego by forming their own partnerships with local schools. Now, this won't be an expensive new government program. It'll be human and effective with thousands of men and women whose jobs range from designing satellites to building our bridges and highways, joining those in the private sector to lend a hand to our nation's schools.

Now, I understand that the principal of Congress Heights Elementary School is here with us. Bill Dalton, would you please join me, come up here?

Mr. Dalton, all of you watching at Congress Heights, I have a surprise for you. You were told that closed-circuit TV's put in your school were there because WJLA Television here in Washington was going to form a partnership with you. Well, that wasn't quite right. With your permission, Mr. Dalton, it's the White House which would like to form a partnership with your school.

Mr. Dalton. Thank you very much.

The President. We'd like to pitch in at Congress Heights, tutoring, showing students how the White House works, helping them further develop their academic skills, and talking to them about our jobs here and the careers that we had before we came here. And by the way, if there's anybody interested in lifeguarding, sports announcing on radio, or -- [laughter] -- movie acting, I'd be happy to help, too. [Laughter] I didn't mention one of the better jobs that I've had, which was washing dishes in the girls dormitory. [Laughter]

And finally, let me just say a word to you, the students at Congress Heights. You don't have to take notes, because I promise not to give a pop quiz. You've probably heard a lot about the importance of dwindling resources. Well, I want you to know that our greatest resource is the human mind, and it isn't dwindling at all. There's no limit to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder. And that's why giving all of you a good education is so very important.

Just a hundred years ago, in the time of our great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, oil was nothing but so much sticky, smelly fluid. And it was the invention of the internal combustion engine that turned oil into a resource, and today oil fuels the world economy.

Just 10 years ago, around the time many of you were born, sand was nothing but the stuff that deserts are made of. Today we use sand to make silicon chips that guide satellites through the infinite reaches of space.

So, remember, in this vast and beautiful land that God has given us, it's not what's inside the Earth that counts, but what's inside your hearts and minds, because that's the stuff that dreams are made of. And America's future is in your dreams. Make them come true.

Thank you all very much. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:49 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.