Remarks at a Regional Forum of the National Commission on Excellence in Education in Whittier, California

June 30, 1983

Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. I'm delighted to be here at Pioneer High School. Pioneer is an appropriate name, too, because this school is pioneering a new age of education based on old values, under the leadership of Mr. Eicholtz. How about that, at my age and I'm still calling the principal ``Mister.'' [Laughter] But under his leadership, this school shows what can be accomplished when students, faculty, parents, and the local community work together.

I'm told that at one time, Pioneer was a problem school. But today, it's a finalist in the National Secondary School Recognition Program. And what I like about Pioneer is its pride. Teachers are proud of students; students are proud of teachers. Both are proud of the principal. And everybody's proud of the school itself.

Principals, teachers, and students all pick up paper in the halls if they find it and throw it in trash cans. [Laughter] Instead of putting up a 10-foot chain-link fence, parents, students, and teachers built a distinguished wrought-iron fence. The community Little League, which uses Pioneer's athletic fields, has invested $11,000 and thousands of hours improving the facilities. And what all this means is that students are more receptive to learning, because they respect the institution known as the school. And this is a base.

The resulting academic benefits are now flowing -- and you'll hear more about those in a few minutes. There has to be an attitude for learning before anything sticks in the student's head. And we've seen that attitude change here at Pioneer. I wish I could load all the students and teachers of this school on a bus and take them around the country with me, showing the Nation what can be done.

This meeting today is one in a series of forums to discuss the recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The last time education was the focus of such intense public debate was during the 1950's. This Nation then was shaken when the Soviets launched their Sputnik. We responded by making math, science, and engineering education a priority, and that beautiful white space shuttle that we've just recently seen shows how we succeeded.

I believe the Commission's report has shaken the Nation as well. And we need shaking. We needed a respected, bipartisan panel to take a hard look at our educational system and tell us where we'd gone wrong. Now it's up to us to respond as positively as we did in the 1950's.

One of the recommendations of the report was that citizens across the Nation should hold educators and elected officials responsible for providing the leadership necessary to achieve reform. And I agree completely. We Federal officials have the responsibility for identifying the national interest in education and providing leadership. But local officials are the ones who pay most of the bills and govern the school district. And it's at the local level where progress will be made.

Local school boards can set higher standards. They can see that outstanding teachers are rewarded for their efforts. They can provide incentives and recognition for students who work to attain the outer limits of their ability. We need to bring the concept of achievement back into our schools -- achievement for teachers and students alike.

Leadership is so important. We need the best efforts of Governors, legislators, superintendents, school board members, principals, students, and parents. Teachers can't succeed unless all those in leadership positions create conditions supportive of success.

And while I'm at it, I would like to applaud Governor George Deukmejian and his efforts to make education a number one budget priority in his administration. Fifty-one percent of Governor Deukmejian's proposed California budget is dedicated to education -- the first real dollar increase in 7 years. The Governor's plans for California education are consistent with the recommendations of the Commission, and all Californians will benefit from the reforms of the system, and yet, do it with no new taxes.

Of course, the home and family are the foundation on which we build effective schools. It's vital to recognize the very significant role of parents in all of this. That's why I recently went to Albuquerque to address the P.T.A. Schools can't do their job if a child doesn't come to school with a readiness and a willingness to learn, and that begins at home. No success on the school's part can totally compensate for failure in the home.

The time has come for a grassroots campaign for educational renewal that unites parents, teachers, students, local officials, and concerned citizens. We need to restore parents and local government to their rightful role in the educational process. It's going to take the attention of all of us to attain the reform of American education. And this must be one of the highest priorities of America today, and that's why I'm spending so much time trying to spur the debate.

However, before we start our discussion, I want to tell you that during 1983, we have been conducting a search to find some exemplary secondary schools. We need some role models, and we need to point out to the public that in spite of the problems we face in education, there are still some outstanding schools to be found all across the Nation. Through use of a panel of experts, not employees of the Federal Government, a list of winners in a nationwide search has been compiled. And I'm pleased to announce that Pioneer High School has been selected by the panel to be honored for excellence in education.

If the principal and the superintendent will join me here, we will make the first of 144 awards to be made in our nationwide search for exemplary schools.

First is this plaque recognizing Pioneer High School, Whittier, California, for outstanding progress toward excellence in education.

Because, now, plaques hang on the wall within the school and only those who are within the school can see them, and since this recognition should be more widely known, we have had designed and made a flag. You do a better job of flying it from the flagpole than I did in trying to straighten it out. [Laughter]

Now, I guess we start the panel. And now I guess we're going to hear a little more about your success here with Pioneer.

[At this point, Secretary Bell introduced the first of several speakers who participated in the panel discussion, which lasted approximately 15 minutes. The President then continued speaking.]

Could I -- please, just for one second, could I just give a little sum-up here of my own -- and you've all been so gracious about my being here, I just want to tell you -- and if it includes those other 143, that's a lot more fun than I have most of the time in Washington. [Laughter]

No, I'm very proud to be here. And my good friend, Jaime Escalante, I'm very proud and happy of that signature and what you've done, what you've accomplished here.\1\ (FOOTNOTE)

(FOOTNOTE) \1\Mr. Escalante, a math teacher and panel discussion participant, had shown the President his teaching certificate, which the President had signed when he was Governor of California.

I agree with the things that you said and what you said about extracurricular activities. They were very near and dear to my heart also. And I agree, there is a great deal of learning in all of those things.

I have a nostalgic feeling right now, and I'm going to just tell something for the benefit of the students here of that and a little confessional. I have a warm spot for principals. I was in the principal's office once in Dixon High School. [Laughter] And he was a remarkable friend who remained, until his death a short time ago in Dixon, we kept close contact and all. But I wasn't in there just to pass the time of day. [Laughter] And at one point in what was going on he said to me, ``You know, I don't care what you think of me now.'' He said, ``I'm only interested in what you'll think of me 15 years from now.'' And it goes with that thing that you just said about the loving care and the feeling on the part of students that those that are teaching them have their interests at heart. Because I didn't have to wait 15 years for him to find out what I then thought of him and what he had meant to me.

The thing here of -- and the recommendation of the Commission about required courses -- and this again, to the students. I know it's very easy to think that what you want and what looks like fun in studying is fine. But none of us ever entered high school with really the knowledge of where we were truly going, what we wanted, because we hadn't had enough experiences to make those choices. And it's in the compulsory courses that you find out.

I found out, for example, that I had to fight like crazy, to just stay eligible for football, in the science classes. But I also saw schoolmates of mine that suddenly just found themselves and couldn't wait till the last bell rang to go back up to the lab and on their own do additional things in those courses. And today, that's the field that they find themselves in. By the same token, believe it or not, I fell in love with English, and so did rather well in that. But in those days, who would have discovered that if we had not had what the Commission recommends -- that you had to take English, you had to take math, you had to take some science -- and this was what gave us our chance to find ourselves and become educated in that way.

But the overall thing again was -- and here, really, the nostalgia runs warm and deep -- and that is that, yes, there was a great security. You might have gotten irritated sometimes as a student at them, and you might have been mad about a grade you got or something else. But you went to school with the knowledge or the belief in your own heart that those people were dedicated to your welfare.

And it was almost the same atmosphere as with parents. They wanted you to succeed and do well. And too many of our schools in the country -- and that's what's caused the Commission -- have gone into a time in which students are passed on from one grade to the next simply because they came to the end of the year.

And the other day, I had the experience of calling a young man in Chicago, Illinois, a basketball star in one of our universities. My mother had taught me that everything always happens for a reason and for the best. In his case, it was a shattering injury to his knee, which certainly was not going to help his basketball career. But in this day and age, he had gone through junior high as a star, in senior high as a star, was playing varsity basketball at one of our universities. And because of the bad knee, he had begun to realize no one had been educating him; they'd just been letting him play basketball. And he went to Chicago to that wonderful teacher who's attracted such national attention, Marva Collins, to sit down with fourth grade students and learn to read and write.

How in the world -- I can't believe in my day that anyone could have ever been passed through and on and be in the university. And he had even learned that in that university the courses they'd given him, like the history of baseball. [Laughter] But they hadn't told him that if he completed all those courses, he could not get a diploma, which was what he honestly wanted. And he told me on the phone that he would be forever indebted. And he said the children -- he said, yes, it was embarrassing, a 6-foot 9-inch fourth grader. [Laughter] But he said they were very kind, and they were wonderful to him and helped him in every way. And now he's going to go back to college to get a diploma, not play basketball. He's not going back to the same college -- [laughter] -- going to another one.

But, this, I'm so encouraged. And the only reason -- just so you'll know -- that I'm leaving here is because I have a date, and I don't want to keep them waiting with one of their summer classes in remedial reading. And I want to go out and join them. They probably invited me because they've heard some of my speeches. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 9:33 a.m. in the Pioneer High School gymnasium. He was introduced by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell.