Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Independent Schools

February 28, 1985

Secretary Bennett, ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to have this opportunity to speak to your National Association of Independent Schools.

America has a long heritage of educational diversity, of public schools working along- side our independent schools, and this tradition has done much to contribute to our nation's greatness. You and the schools you represent have helped keep our educational standards high. You've earned the deep respect and appreciation of the American people, and I thank you.

And let me just say how proud I am to appear here with our new Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett. Whether as a student in his undergraduate days or studying for his doctorate or, later, as a teacher, author, or Chairman for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bill Bennett has spent a lifetime taking serious ideas seriously.

He's also an authority on rock and roll -- [laughter] -- as well as the fortunes of the Dixon, Illinois, high school football team, and that makes him A - OK in my book -- [laughter] -- because that's where I played my football.

But, Bill, I know that in your new post you're working passionately to improve American education. And you have my enthusiastic support. And so far, I have only one complaint: I've been following those press reports of your interviews, and I just wish you'd stop mincing your words. [Laughter]

When our administration began its first term in 1981, we had to clean up the mess we'd inherited. And today we're creating a new nation. Our economy is growing, our spirit is renewed, our country is stronger, and America is at peace.

As Prime Minister Thatcher told the Congress this month, it wasn't Soviet good will that brought the Soviets back to the bargaining table; it was American strength. So it is that, as we begin this second term, I believe we face an historic challenge. We have the chance to prepare America, not just for the next 4 years or the next decade, but for the 21st century. And together, we can keep America moving toward that first shining vision -- a land of golden opportunity, where achievement is limited only by how big we dream, how hard we work, and how well we learn.

And we know the path to that vision is through economic growth and new technologies and renewed excellence in American education. Today we're making history with the most sustained, far-reaching economic expansion since the end of World War II. More than 7 million jobs have been created over the last 2 years, and more Americans are now working than ever before in our history. And we're determined to go on creating more jobs until every American can share in the self-esteem that comes from the honest work of hands and mind.

A stronger economy is leading us into a technological revolution that's offering dazzling progress for the future. During the past couple of weeks, it so happens that I have presented the first National Technology Awards, awarded the National Medals of Science, and had lunch with a group of futurists. I've heard about the fiber composites and ceramics that are taking the place of costly metals in manufacturing, about new medical techniques like the use of lasers and sound waves. And I've learned more about the miracles of microchips, about the practical benefits of the space station that we plan to have in orbit by the mid-1990's, and the home computers that are putting our literature and vast sums of information at families' fingertips.

Albert Einstein once said that science is nothing but everyday thinking carefully applied. Well, that's easy for him to say. [Laughter] Yet, even laymen like us can see that in coming decades technology promises to make life in America longer, healthier, and fuller.

Yet as important as technology and economic growth are to our future, education is more important still. Without education, economic growth and technological innovation will be limited. Without education, we could even lose our most fundamental values -- our beliefs in a just and loving God, in freedom, in hard work. Yet if we do educate our children well, grounding them in our values, sharpening their minds, teaching them greatness of spirit, then the coming decades will be the best that America has ever seen.

Secretary Bennett has said that education is the architecture of the soul. Well, with the very soul of our nation at stake, let us consider the future of education in America. This spring we mark the second anniversary of a Department of Education report that was entitled ``A Nation at Risk.'' Now, that report concluded that if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.

Well, from 1963 to 1980, scholastic aptitude test scores showed a virtually unbroken decline. Science achievement scores showed a similar drop. Most shocking, the report stated that more than one-tenth of our 17-year-olds could be considered functionally illiterate.

And so Americans decided to put an end to educational decline. Across the land, parents, teachers, school officials, and State and local officeholders began to improve the fundamentals of American education. I don't mean they went to work on budget-busting proposals of new frills in the curriculum. They went to work as you have -- on teaching and learning.

When we took office, only a handful of States had task forces on education. Today they all do. Since 1981, 43 States have raised their graduation requirements; 5 more have higher requirements under consideration. Perhaps the most telling figure is this: scholastic aptitude test scores have risen in 2 of the last 3 years, the best record in the last 20 years. And we've only begun.

States and localities, which quite properly bear the main responsibility for our schools, have taken an active part in this movement for educational reform. But we've made certain that the Federal Government has also played a leading role. Our administration has replaced 28 narrow educational programs with one block grant to give State and local officials greater leeway in spending Federal aid.

We've rolled back regulations that were hampering educators with needless paperwork. We've taken steps to promote discipline in our schools, including the establishment of the National School Safety Center. And we've launched Partnerships in Education, a program in which businesses, labor unions, and other groups of working people are pitching in to help schools in their communities. Today there are more than 40,000 such partnerships in operation. In Philadelphia, for example, business leaders have raised $26 million to support the Catholic schools that educqte one-third of the city's children. I should add that one of the most effective Federal actions has been the growth of the economy, that I mentioned a moment ago.

Private contributions to schools, especially colleges and universities, are up. Indeed, in 1983 the colleges and universities that responded to a survey conducted by the Council for Financial Aid to Education reported endowments totaling some $29.6 billion, the largest 1-year figure since the council began conducting its surveys in 1966.

Under the previous administration, even though Federal education budgets soared, overall spending on education throughout America, adjusted for inflation, actually declined by $17 billion, dragged down by the weakening economy. But with inflation down and the economy now growing again, education spending throughout the country, despite restraint at the Federal level, has actually gone up by almost $18 billion. And today many States are running a surplus and are in a better position to help fund our public schools and universities.

From the State university that has new funds for research to the community that can afford a new school bus, economic growth is giving education throughout America a powerful lift. Continuing this economic growth will prove invaluable during the 4 years to come. And that's why we intend to provide more incentives, cut personal income tax rates further, and keep America the investment capital of the world. And that's why we can and must bring Federal spending under control.

Now, in recent weeks, there's been a certain amount of confusion regarding our budget proposals on education. Let me take this opportunity to make matters clear. In our proposal, we have recommended reserving aid for the needy, limiting aid per student to a level we can afford, closing loopholes that lead to abuse and error, and cutting excessive subsidies to banks and others.

Regarding student loans, as things stand now, our nation provides some aid to college students from the highest income families; some to students who come from families with incomes higher than $100,000. This defies common sense, insults simple justice, and must stop. Government has no right to force the least affluent to subsidize the sons and daughters of the wealthy. And under our proposal, this will change. Those whose family incomes are too high to qualify for guaranteed loans with heavy interest subsidies will still have access to guaranteed, but unsubsidized loans of up to $4,000. And every qualified student who wants to go to college will still be able to do so.

Yes, our proposal may cause some families to make difficult adjustments. But by bringing the budget under control, we will avoid the far more painful adjustment of living in a wrecked economy. And that's what we're absolutely determined to do.

Our budget proposal is prudent; it's reasonable and just. I consider it fully deserving of the support for it that I'm asking you and all Americans to give.

State task forces on education, college entrance scores growing -- or edging up, a growing economy providing schools with more resources -- yes, education has taken its first steps on the long, hard road to excellence. And as we continue our journey during the next 4 years and beyond, Secretary Bennett and I believe there are five aspects of education to which we must give our full attention, five guideposts, if you will, to lead us on our way: choice, teachers, curriculum, setting, and parents. And let me touch briefly on each of them for you now.

The first, choice: Parents should have greater freedom to send their children to the schools they desire and to do so without interference by local, State, or Federal levels of government. Diversity and competition among schools should be encouraged, not discouraged.

At the State level, efforts to encourage parental choice might involve both legislation to permit parents to choose from any public schools within their districts and efforts to eliminate redtape surrounding within-district transfers.

At the Federal level, our administration has made two proposals to expand parental choice. Tuition tax credits would provide some support to middle and lower income parents with children in independent schools. And this would be only fair, since these parents are also paying their full share of taxes to support our public schools.

Education vouchers would deliver aid for educationally disadvantaged children, not to schools but directly to the parents. And under our plan, each year, selected parents would receive one voucher worth several hundred dollars per child. These parents would then be free to use their vouchers at any schools they chose.

Tuition tax credits and education vouchers would foster greater diversity and, hence, higher standards throughout our system of education. These proposals have the support of the American people. And make no mistake, Secretary Bennett and I intend to see them through to their enactment.

Our second guidepost, teachers: Studies indicate that by the end of this decade America will need more than a million new teachers and that by 1990 almost two-thirds of our teachers will have been hired since 1980. Today America boasts thousands of fine teachers, but in too many cases teaching has become a resting place for the unmotivated and the unqualified. And this we can no longer allow.

We must give our teachers greater honor and respect. We must sweep away laws and regulations, such as unduly restrictive certification requirements, that prevent good people from entering this profession, and we must pay and promote our teachers according to merit. Hard-earned tax dollars have no business rewarding mediocrity; they must be used to encourage excellence.

And third, curriculum: deciding what we want our children to learn. This is, to be sure, a difficult question. But this much we already know: We cannot allow our curricula to be divided by narrow interest groups. They must be determined by the intellectual, moral, and civic needs of our students themselves.

We must also know certain basic subjects must not be neglected. Too many students today are allowed to abandon vocational and college prep courses for courses of doubtful value, that prepare them neither for work nor higher education. Compared to other industrialized countries, moreover, we have fallen behind in the sciences and math.

In Japan advanced coursework in mathematics and science starts in elementary school. So Japan, with a population only about half the size of ours, graduates about as many engineers as we do. In the Soviet Union students learn the basic concepts of algebra and geometry in elementary school. Compared to the United States, the Soviet Union graduates from college more than three times as many specialists in engineering. It's time to put an end to this learning gap by insisting that all American students become fully conversant with science and math, as well as history, reading, and writing.

But students should not only learn basic subjects but basic values. We must teach the importance of justice, equality, religion, liberty, and standards of right and wrong. And we must give them a picture of America that is balanced and full, containing our virtues along with our faults.

New York University Dean, Dr. Herbert London, learned this the hard way. One day his 13-year-old daughter came home from school with tears in her eyes to say, ``I don't have a future.'' She showed her father a paper she'd been given in school. It listed horrors that it claimed awaited her generation, including air pollution so bad that everyone would have to wear a gas mask.

Well, as a result of that incident, London wrote a book called, ``Why Are They Lying To Our Children?'' It documents the myths that are taught in so many of our schools. Our children should know, London argues, that because our society decided to do something about pollution, our environment is getting better, not worse. Emissions of most conventional air pollutants, for example, have decreased significantly, while trout and other fish are returning to streams where they haven't been seen for decades.

Our children should know that because Americans abhor discrimination, the number of black families living in our suburbs has grown more than three times the rate of white families living in suburbs and that between 1960 and 1982, the number of black Americans in our colleges more than quadrupled.

By any objective measure, we live in the freest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world, and our children should know that. As Jeane Kirkpatrick once put it, ``We must learn to bear the truth about our society no matter how pleasant it is.'' [Laughter]

You know, our fourth guidepost is setting in schools throughout -- in setting, I should say: In schools throughout America, learning has been crowded out by alcohol, drugs, and crime. In 1983, for example, a distinguished panel reported on one of our major urban school systems and found that during the prior year fully one-half of the high school teachers who responded to the survey had fallen victim to robbery, larceny, or assault on school property. Of the high school students surveyed, nearly four-tenths had likewise been victimized. And the panel found, moreover, that during the prior year 17 percent of the female students and 37 percent of the male students surveyed had carried weapons to school. In the name of our children, this must stop. In the courts, for too long, we've concentrated on the rights of the few disruptive students and allowed simple matters of discipline to become major legal proceedings.

Supreme Court Justice Powell has criticized the ``indiscriminate reliance upon the judiciary and the adversary process as the means of resolving many of the most routine problems arising in the classroom.'' It's high time we return common sense to the process and paid attention to the rights of the great majority of students who want to learn.

I'm proud to say that our Justice Department participated in the recent Supreme Court case that restored the authority of school officials to conduct reasonable searches. There's no need to call in a grand jury every time a principal needs to check a student locker. And today I'm directing our outstanding new Attorney General, Ed Meese, to work with Secretary Bennett in examining possible modifications of Federal law to avoid undercutting the authority of State and local school officials to maintain effective discipline.

Discipline is important, not for its own sake, but as a way of instilling a virtue that is central to life in our democracy -- self-discipline. And if it is sometimes difficult to assert rightful authority, we must ask: Who better to correct the student's arithmetic -- his math teacher or, years later, his boss? Who better to teach the student respect for rules -- his principal or, someday, the police?

Let's teach our sons and daughters to view academic standards, codes of civilized behavior, and knowledge itself with reverence. And let us do so not for the sake of those standards, those codes, or that knowledge, but for the sake of those young human beings.

Now, our fifth and perhaps most important guidepost is parents. Parents care about their children's education with an intensity central authorities do not share. A widely respected educator, Dr. Eileen Gardner, has written: ``The record shows that when control of education is placed in Federal hands it is not control by the people, but by small, yet powerful lobbies motivated by self-interest or dogma. When centralized in this way, it is beyond the control of the parents and local communities it is designed to serve. It becomes impervious to feedback.''

Well, the answer is to restore State and local governments and, above all, parents to their rightful place in the educational process. Parents know that they cannot educate their children on their own. We must recognize, in turn, that schools cannot educate students without the personal involvement of parents.

Choice, teachers, curriculum, setting, parents -- if we concentrate on these five guideposts, then I know American education will enjoy a great renaissance of excellence and enable us to achieve new strength, freedom, and prosperity in the century to come.

You know, this month we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the publication of an American classic. It's a book I read in school myself. My guess is that most of you read it in school, too, and that most of your children and their children will as well. Its title: ``The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.''

You remember the story: Huck and Jim, an escaped slave, float on a raft down the Mississippi. They seemed to have an adventure every time they drift ashore. And they become entangled with townsfolk, two colorful con artists, and members of feuding clans. Huck works hard to keep Jim free, and in the end he succeeds.

In this work, Mark Twain presents the humor, the openness, and purity of hearts so characteristic of the American spirit. I believe the book says much about the moral aims of education, about the qualities of heart that we seek to impart to our children.

At one point in the book, Huck talks about evenings on the raft. He says: ``We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed -- only a low kind of chuckle . . .

``Every night we passed towns, some of them away up on black hillsides, nothing but just a shining bed of lights . . . The fifth night we passed St. Louis, and it was like the whole world lit up. In St. Petersburg, they used to say there was 20,000 or 30,000 people in St. Louis, but I never believed it till I see that wonderful spread of lights at two o'clock that still night.''

Well, in the decades to come, may our schools give to our children the skills to navigate through life as gracefully as Huck navigated the Mississippi. And may they teach our students the same hatred of bigotry and love of their fellow men that Huck showed on every page, and especially in his love for his big friend, Jim. And may they equip them to be as thankful for the gift of life in America in the 21st century as was one Huckleberry Finn in the 19th.

And may I just say something also, too, about getting a little overboard and using something -- prestige -- or getting it out of education. It's a story about the author of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain. He was on an ocean voyage. And one day in the dining salon on the ship, one of his tablemates asked him if he would pass the sugar. And then, knowing that he was speaking to Mark Twain, he thought he would impress him a little bit with his knowledge. And he said, ``Mr. Twain, isn't it interesting that the only two words in the English language in which the `su' has the `shu' sound are sumac and sugar?'' Twain said, ``Are you sure?'' [Laughter]

Thank you all. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:21 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.