Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By Vice President Al Gore
National Conference Of Black Mayors
Friday, April 28, 2000
I’m here to discuss one of the greatest of all the responsibilities we share. In order to meet our needs in this dynamic new economyin order to prepare our children for the jobs of the futurewe have to bring revolutionary improvements to our schools. We have to make our public education the best education in the world.
Improving education is one of the greatest challenges our next President will face. It is also one of the major differences between me and my opponent, George W. Bush.
Governor Bush says he cares about education and wants to improve our schools. But he has a bad plan. We need to invest more and demand morenot aim too low, invest too little, and drain resources away from public schools with private school vouchers.
I believe we need revolutionary change in education nownot half-measures and voucher schemes that could mean that part of a whole generation would lose their chance for a good education.
Let me be clear about where I stand. Fundamental decisions about education have to be made at the local level. But I believe education must be a national priority.
That's why I outlined a comprehensive education plan with new resources and new accountability, as the first major policy address of my campaign, almost a full year ago in Iowa. That is why I have said in virtually every speech since then that education must be America's number-one priority for investing in the future, and that we need higher standards, more accountability, and new resources to meet the standards. And that is why, in the coming days, I will be setting out in further detail the steps we must take to raise the number of teachers and the quality of teachers.
Today, I am proposing a new national commitment to bring revolutionary improvements to our schoolsbuilt on three basic principles. First, I am proposing a major national investment to bring revolutionary improvements to our schools. Second, I am proposing a national revolution in accountabilityto demand high performance from students, teachers, and schools. And third, I am proposing a dramatic expansion of public school choice.
Investment without accountability is a waste of money. Accountability without investment is doomed to fail. And public school choice and competition are essential if we want to push our schools to the highest possible levels of excellent in education.
But Governor Bush falls short on all three goals. Instead of a major national investment, he offers a little spendingbut not nearly enough to meet the challenges our schools will face. And of course his tax scheme, if enacted, would guarantee big cuts in spending for public schools. Instead of a revolution in accountability, he passes the buck on the tough measures we really need. And instead of meaningful public school choice and competition, he proposes private school vouchersdraining away precious public dollars from our public schools, giving them to private schools that are not accountable.
I haven’t just been talking about these challenges. I’ve been doing some learning of my own, from the greatest education experts of all: America’s parents, teachers, and students.
Almost every week, I hold what I call "School Days"days on which I participate in every aspect of the life of a school. I spend the night at the home of a teacherand go with that teacher to school the next morning. I’m there when the children arrive in the morning; I’m there when they leave at the end of the day.
In between, I visit school assemblies and computer labs. I meet with teachers and principals, bus drivers and janitors. I help to teach classes in everything from history to geometryand hold open discussions on everything from school safety to reading, writing, and arithmetic.
At one school, L’Anse Creuse Middle School in Macomb County, Michigan, I took part in a drama class, where we were asked to express an idea without using wordsby talking in gibberish.
Maybe that’s what they think public officials do.
But the more schools I visit, the more I understand how far we’ve comeand how far we still have to go.
We’re raising standards, and working with local school districts to end social promotion in ways that are fair and responsible. We passed a law that guarantees children stuck in a failing school the choice of a better public school. We’ve gone from one Charter School in the entire country to 1,700 innovative Charter Schools run by parents and teachers. We’ve begun hiring 100,000 new teachers to reduce class sizeand we’re insisting that every new teacher hired under that program be fully qualified.
Today, math and reading scores are risingwith some of the greatest gains in some of the most disadvantaged communities. Sixty-seven percent of high school graduates now go on to collegea ten percent increase in seven years.
It’s not easy to win the resources we need when too many say that education should not even be a national priority. At the same time, the percentage of voters with school age children is now the smallest in history.
But we know that reforming and revolutionizing American education is the right thing for America to do. We know that we have a national responsibility to raise our sights, and raise our standards.
Here are the results I believe we can and must achieve:
By the end of the next Presidential term, parents across the country ought to be able to choose the best public school for their children.
By the end of the next Presidential term, every failing school in this nation should be turned aroundor shut down and reopened under new leadership.
By the end of the next Presidential term, we should have a fully-qualified, well-trained teacher in every single classroom, everywhere in America.
By the end of the next Presidential term, all states should make sure that every high school graduate has mastered the basics of reading and mathso that a high school diploma really means something.
This is my goal: by the year 2005, every state working to close the achievement gap between children from different backgrounds; rich and poor; urban, suburban, and rural. A school system that holds every student, every school, and every state accountable for real results.
To make sure we have the resources to meet that goal, my education plan begins with a 50 percent increase in our national commitment to education.
We cannot reform and revolutionize education without this kind of major national investment. Those like Governor Bush, who pretend we can reform American education with private school vouchers, a bite-sized investment, and an occasional speech, are simply out of touch with the challenges facing our public schools.
My plan makes high-quality pre-school universally availablebecause research shows that early learning is vital to success in later grades and later life.
My education plan invests in smaller schools and smaller classesbecause we know that is one of the most effective ways to improve student performance.
I've been to public schools in Florida where the facilities are so overcrowded, they have to eat lunch in shiftswith the first shift at 9:30 in the morning. I've been to schools where the desks have to be rearranged to avoid the places where ceiling tiles regularly fall to the floor.
A few weeks ago, I visited an elementary school where 400 students were packed into a building designed for just over 300. During recess, children watched television sitting in hallways.
My education plan rebuilds and modernizes 6,000 public schools buildings across Americabecause you can’t get a 21st Century education in a 19th Century classroom.
At Marie G. Davis Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, I saw the difference it makes to have several computers in every classroom, and technology integrated into the whole curriculum. My education plan puts computers in every classroom, and uses new technology to tailor learning to each child’s pace and needs. In this Information Age, it is foolish to be bound by a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
These investments are critical. But just as critical are higher standards and stricter accountability.
Let me talk about five key areas of accountability: turning around failing schools, expanding public school choice, measuring the progress of our high schools, increasing discipline and safety in our schools, and holding states and schools accountable for closing the achievement gap.
First, I propose that we meet our responsibility to turn around every failing school in America. There are too many school districts in America where less than half the students graduate, and where those who do graduate aren’t ready for college or good jobs.
As President, I propose that we require every state and every school district to identify failing schools, and work to turn them aroundwith strict accountability for results, strong incentives for success, and more help to get the job done. If failing schools don’t improve quickly, they will be shut down and reopened under a new principalwith a full peer evaluation of every teacher, intensive training for those who need it, and fair ways to improve or remove low-performing teachers. And we will provide special incentives to attract the best teachers and a high-performing principal.
Accountability will be backed up with investmenta 200 percent increase in resources to turn around failing schools.
Second, I propose that we meet our responsibility to give parents more choice in their children’s public schools. We’ve already expanded public school choice for those whose children are in the lowest-performing schools. Now we need to apply the pressure and competition that will improve all public schools.
That is why I will triple the number of Charter Schoolsand put forward a plan to bring public school choice to 100 of the lowest-performing school districts in America.
We need more choice and competition within the public school system. What we don’t need is the false promise of private school voucherswhich funnel public money into private schools that are not accountable.
Third, I propose real benchmarks to assess our progress. As President, I will promote exit exams and other measures to make sure that high school students can read and do math at high school levels before they graduate.
My purpose is not to hold any child back, but to make sure all our children get the help they need to move forward. We will provide extra help for students in disadvantaged areas, and we will hold our entire school system accountableso that when our children reach for their diplomas, they are truly ready to reach for their dreams.
Fourth, I propose a renewed focus on discipline, character, and safety in our schoolswith parents meeting their responsibility to be involved.
In an average year, up to 6,000 American students are expelled for bringing a gun to school. Parents at Avondale Elementary in Ohio shared with me their fears about school violenceat a school where the oldest student is barely a teenager. Yet some want to weaken the restrictions on guns in schoolsand even in churches. Haven’t we learned the lessons of Columbine? I will stand for a simple policy toward guns in all our schools: zero tolerance, period.
Many teachers have told me that they feel uncertain and sometimes confused about what standards of discipline are acceptable in the eyes of parents and the school.
At L’Anse Creuse Middle School, students and teachers address this problem by coming together to agree upon a code of rules and responsibilities they will uphold together. We need to build on that kind of effort, all across America.
So I will work to establish a School Responsibility Day in every school, at the beginning of every school yearto assure better communication between parents and teachers about what standards are appropriate and how they should be enforced.
Parents, teachers, and students should be required to meet together on the first day of school, to agree on a strict, fair discipline code to be signed by every parent, every teacher, and every student.
We will also create second-chance schoolswhere kids headed for trouble, and those caught with guns, can receive the strict discipline and intensive services they need.
We will increase our commitment to after-schoolso children have a place to learn in those afternoon hours when most juvenile crime, teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug use occur.
There is one more principle that is essential if we want the very best from our schools: we should invest more in what worksand stop investing in what doesn’t.
If I’m entrusted with the Presidency, the nation’s school authorities will also be on notice. Today, I propose a plan to provide clear financial incentives for states and school districts that successfully narrow the achievement gapand there will be clear financial consequences for those that don’t.
And to make sure we set our sights high, I believe we need a voluntary national test in 4th grade reading and in 8th grade math, to make sure every student masters the basics. That way, parents will know their children are making progressand they can compare how their children are doing with other children all across the country.
I know that these reforms will not be easy or inexpensive. But all of my accountability proposals have the same fundamental purpose: to boost student achievement, close the achievement gap in our schools, and make sure no child is left behind.
The quality of our public schools is perhaps the greatest test of our responsibility to the next generation. I believe we have an obligation to do what’s right for our childrento meet their long-term needs.
My differences with George W. Bush are not personal. But when it comes to education reform, I have serious questions about his plans and about his resolve.
Here’s the problem: gradual change in education just won’t meet our challenge for a new century. We need to act boldly, and we need to act nowbecause our children can’t wait any longer. If we want to give our children a world-class education, we have to hold ourselves to world-class standards. Can we really afford to wait another 10 or 20 years to see if gradual change will be sufficient? Can we really say to today’s parents: sorry, we hope to have this problem solved for the next generation of children?
And we also have to avoid the wrong kind of changewhich would drain money away from public schools.
I know how hard America’s teachers and principals are working. They need and deserve our helphere in Texas, and across America.
The people of Texas deserve better than a pre-school participation rate 28 percent below the national average. But Governor Bush has no answer for Texasand no national proposal for universal pre-school.
The people of Texas deserve better than 40,000 teacher vacancies this year alone, with this state ranked 41st in the nation in standards for teacher quality. But Governor Bush has no answer for Texas, and no national plan to put a qualified teacher in every classroom. He even opposes the 100,000 teachers we are hiring across the country.
The people of Texas deserve better than a shortage of 12,000 new classrooms over the next ten years to meet skyrocketing enrollments. But Governor Bush has no answer for Texasand he openly mocks the very idea of national commitment to school construction.
Here in Texas, when George W. Bush took office, he tried to let schools escape the state’s requirement for smaller class sizes. Now he’s offering no national plan to reduce class size. The people of Texasand the American peopledeserve better than larger class sizes and a few more speeches on education.
Consider Governor Bush’s national accountability agenda. Its centerpiece is a proposal to drain public money away from public schools with private school vouchers.
In fact, his answer for failing schools is to take away a major portion of their funding, and allow it to be used for private schools through vouchersgiving parents a fraction of what private tuition really costs, and giving taxpayer dollars to schools that are accountable to no one.
Governor Bush says he’s for public school choicebut since he does nothing to rebuild crumbling schools or reduce class size, his idea of public school choice is to send more children to school in antiquated, overcrowded classrooms.
Finally, the underlying truth is that Governor Bush simply can’t make a major national commitment to reform educationbecause he’s already spent all the money on a risky, $2.1 trillion tax scheme designed to lavish more on those who already have the most. Governor Bush is proposing to spend about 100 dollars on risky tax cuts for every dollar he puts into education. Who in this room believes he has the right priorities?
Should America squander this extraordinary prosperity on an irresponsible tax schemewhile draining money from the public schools that are the greatest responsibility we have to the next generation?
I know how hard our teachers and students are workinghere in Texas and across America. I know how hard our parents are striving to pass on the American dream to their children.
And I know that we have more than a chance to help themwe have a profound responsibility.
This is truly an extraordinary time for America. Our children and grandchildren will grow up in a world with opportunities as wide and open as the Texas sky. Many of them will work in jobs and industries that we cannot even imagine today. We may never have another chance like this oneto remake the schools they depend on, and strengthen the world that will soon be theirs.
Together, let’s honor that responsibility to the next generation. We have a lot of work ahead of usin our nation’s capital, and in the cities and towns you lead. I can’t wait to get started. Thank you.