Remarks on Receiving the Department of Education Report on Improving Education

May 20, 1987

Well, thank you Secretary Bennett. Today we are pleased to release a government report with some good news and some common sense in it. It's the third in Secretary Bennett's ``What Works'' series, and it's called ``Schools That Work: Educating Disadvantaged Children,'' and it should top the summer reading list of everyone who is concerned about the quality of education in our country. Its message is simple: Good schools make a difference. By giving students the knowledge and values they need to succeed, good schools can help children overcome poverty. They give our disadvantaged children hope, strength, and opportunity; they give them a future.

And the good news is that, as Secretary Bennett's book describes it, we have a number of these schools already, schools winning against the odds, schools that give their students just what it takes: respect for learning and the habits of heart and mind that are necessary for achievement. Instead of high dropout rates, these schools produce high test scores, regular attendance, and impressive college placement records. In schools such as these, a child's homelife or his parents' finances and education are no barrier to success.

These are schools like Chambers Elementary School in East Cleveland, Ohio, where three-quarters of the students are poor and two-thirds come from broken homes or single-parent families, but where test scores just keep going up, and most students read and do math at or above grade level. Now how does Chambers Elementary do it? Well, Principal Joseph Whelan accentuates the positive. He recites the Pledge of Allegiance every morning over the public address system; he insists on excellence; he rewards students for good work; he encourages parents to get involved. And one former student says it best: ``All that schoolwork prepared me to enter high school and leave there as a straight-A student. All those rules taught me right from wrong. At Chambers, I was special.'' Thank you, Principal Whelan. [Applause]

And then there are schools like Hales Franciscan High School in Chicago, Illinois. At Hales Franciscan, 300 young black men from Chicago's inner schools -- or inner city, I should say -- most of them poor, most from single-parent homes, are given an academic and religious education designed to help them escape the poverty trap and get into college. Father Mario DiCicco, the principal, and the community of Franciscan friars and lay teachers give them what it takes -- a strong core curriculum, lots of homework, and an emphasis on values that encourages moral judgment and social responsibility. At least 90 percent of each year's graduates go on to postsecondary education. As many as three-quarters go to 4-year colleges. Yes, Hales Franciscan High School works. Father is not here with us today, but we can recognize what has been accomplished there.

And so does the Gaskins Freedom Youth Academy right here in Washington, DC. Henry and Mary Ann Gaskins have five children of their own and each works full-time, but they feel so strongly about education that 6 years ago they opened their home to neighborhood children and turned it into a thriving afterschool program. Today, Dr. and Mrs. Gaskins tutor 75 children, from kindergarten through 12th grade, giving poor and minority students one-on-one attention in all subject areas -- even computers. And they try to ``blend goodness of character with intellectual skills.'' And their students respond. And here, too, we find rising achievement scores and the attitudes necessary for success.

These schools and programs may seem miraculous, but their accomplishments are no mystery. They can be duplicated all over again, all around America. And they should be; we know how it's done. It's done through the effort of adults who care, men and women who never say die and who stick to traditional values and the basic principles that have always been the secret to good education.

First, schools that work for disadvantaged children are schools that believe they can make a difference. They don't use poverty as an excuse for failure. And they don't wait around for new Federal programs before they start to do their jobs. Their business is children, and their first and most important message to those children is: No matter who you are or where you're from, you can learn.

Second, schools that work for the disadvantaged are schools that help their students develop the same qualities of character and the same values that most Americans want for their children. They know there are no such things as black values and white values or poor values and rich values. No, they know there are only basic American values. They know that lower standards are double standards -- and double standards are wrong. Effort, homework, discipline, values, and quality teaching are the best any education can offer -- to any student, including a poor, disadvantaged child.

Finally, schools that work for disadvantaged children are, well, old-fashioned. They don't go for tricks. They use what's tried and true: clear standards of behavior, long hours, hard work, and measurable goals. They teach the basics -- reading, mathematics, science, and writing. And they teach about America -- our history, literature, our great heroes, and our democratic principles. In fact, Secretary Bennett tells me that one of the most striking things that he's learned in his many visits to our nation's classrooms is that those schools which instill a sense of patriotism in their students by saying the Pledge of Allegiance or singing ``The Star-Spangled Banner'' invariably are the most successful.

Study after study tells us that education is the surest way for individuals to rise above poverty. We've done a lot in the United States to guarantee access and opportunities for education to all our citizens, especially the disadvantaged. We've spent generously on education, more than any other nation on Earth. But too many disadvantaged children are still not getting the education they need. In some cases, we may have spent money on the wrong things. In some others, we may have tried to fix what wasn't broken in the first place. But whatever the reason, we can do better, and we have to, because universal access to education is simply not good enough. Americans need universal access to quality education -- education that works.

I just yesterday had the privilege to speak to the graduating seniors of the Hamilton County-Chattanooga City high schools -- all 13 of them -- not 13 students, 1700 graduates from 13 schools. And believe me, events like those are one of the best things about having this job I've got. Before me were thousands of bright, eager students ready to take to the world. America is lucky to have youth like those, like the young people one meets all over this country. And I just can't help but feel it's our duty to give them the very best education we can possibly provide. It's our duty to them, and our duty to a nation, because those young people are America's future.

And I have to relate just a little personal experience here in closing. I remember one day I was sitting in the principal's office. I wasn't invited in there for a social visit. [Laughter] And he said something that fortunately stuck in my mind, and I remembered. He said, ``Reagan, I don't care what you think of me now. I'm only concerned with what you'll think of me 15 years from now.'' And I thank the Lord that I had the opportunity to tell him shortly before he died how I felt about him 15 years afterward, after that visit in his office. And he was a very great influence in my life.

I recommend to you a poem written by Clark Mollenhoff, the journalist who was part of the White House press corps. He has written a poem called ``Teacher,'' and it talks to you about what teachers mean and the effect they have on children. And I think you'd all be very proud to read his opinion of you. And having read the poem myself, I share that opinion of you. Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:50 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.