06 September 2009

Revolutionize American Education

On 1 October 1991, President George Bush addressed a classroom of students at Alice Deal Junior High in Washington DC (now called Alice Deal Middle School). He spoke in Cynthia Mostoller's classroom, but the message was broadcast live over CNN, PBS, the NBC radio network, and the now defunct Mutual Broadcasting System.

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt criticized the speech, according to the Washington Post, "the Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students." The cost was $26,750. The Scripps Howard News Service called it the "Bush teach-in" and highlighted the political significance.
Bush's appearance was part of a White House effort to discredit Democratic charges that he has no domestic agenda by promoting the education goals he laid out for the nation six months ago.
"Bush Tells Children Stupidity is Not Cool," Scripps Howard News Service (2 October 1991)
The Baltimore Sun compared Bush's effort to the style of President Theodore Roosevelt, "the effect was part bully pulpit, part campaign ad" (quoted in The Volokh Conspiracy).

Six months earlier, in an address to the nation, President Bush had explained that funding for education has failed to improve our nation's schools.
Let's stop trying to measure progress in terms of money spent. We spend 33 percent more per pupil in 1991 than we did in 1981 -- 33 percent more in real, constant dollars. And I don't think there's a person anywhere, anywhere in the country, who would say that we've seen a 33-percent improvement in our schools' performance.
Bush, "Address to the Nation on the National Education Strategy," 18 April 1991
He offered an alternative to funding: revolution.
Dollar bills don't educate students. Education depends on committed communities, determined to be places where learning will flourish; committed teachers, free from the noneducational burdens; committed parents, determined to support excellence; committed students, excited about school and learning. To those who want to see real improvement in American education, I say: There will be no renaissance without revolution.
Bush, "Address to the Nation on the National Education Strategy," 18 April 1991
These addresses to the nation, and then to the nation's youth stemmed from warranted optimism concerning George Bush's hope to leave a legacy as the "Education President". In September of his first year in office, he convened an Education Summit with all fifty governors to set national education goals.
By the year 2000, every child must start school ready to learn.
The United States must increase the high school graduation rate to no less than 90 percent.
And we are going to make sure our schools' diplomas mean something. In critical subjects -- at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades -- we must assess our students' performance.
By the year 2000, U.S. students must be first in the world in math and science achievement.
Every American adult must be a skilled, literate worker and citizen.
Every school must offer the kind of disciplined environment that makes it possible for our kids to learn. And every school in America must be drug-free.

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