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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 18, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY

The Briefing Room

12:15 P.M. EST

MS. WEISS: In the State of the Union address tomorrow night, President Clinton will announce significant education package. Here to talk about this package and answer your questions is Secretary of Education Richard Riley, and the President's Director of Domestic Policy Council, Bruce Reed.

Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY RILEY: Thank you. This is a holiday that all of us are celebrating, Martin Luther King's Birthday. And I don't think anything would please Martin Luther King more than for us in this nation to say that we are getting very serious about education, the education of all children.

Education is clearly the key domestic policy as we go into this next millennium. It will be the driving force to make it America's Century, the next century or not. And I think all of us realize that and recognize it.

We have then, in this administration, pressed for raising standards for all children. Standards, as you know, is a definition of what a child should know and be able to do in a certain grade level, in a certain subject; what should a child in the 5th grade know about math. And then, to follow through with that assessment to those high standards, if you have that in process and the curriculum and the textbook and the teacher preparation, the parent involvement, principal -- all of that is in line, linked to these high standards, they have an amazing impact on education.

And that's true because it's recognized all through this country and in every other country; you've got to have goals, what should we try to teach children at certain grade levels, and what then should they know and be able to do.

That is known as a standards movement. It works. Forty-eight states have developed state standards; two states have local standards as a result of their state way of handling things. But virtually every state in this nation is working toward developing a standards movement. That then is kind of top down in a state -- the way to reach high standards has to involve the entire system, bottom up.

So what the President is saying here is, yes, we've got these standards in place on the state level or they are being worked on seriously. Goals 2000 was our way of giving some resources to do that. States have responded very, very well and we are very pleased to see that happening.

Now, in this proposal -- this is an accountability proposal wherein the President is saying that all of us are going to have to make sure that every child in this country has the opportunity to have a good education. This is following through with the standards movement itself. It is accountability at its best. And we've got to see that all parts of the system work well, so we're saying that states and school districts must be accountable in helping all students reach these high standards. The standards are out there. It's really a way to help states and school districts see that that's done.

These proposals are practical, they're common-sense proposals, they're proposals that are generally used by many, many states -- those states that especially are doing well in education and making significant progress.

I would point out that we are into flexibility in our effort to remove regulations and rules in terms of the elementary and secondary education system, so we're not into developing bureaucratic rules to follow and to confuse and slow down the education process. But these are very large, major accountability features that we think will make a very big difference.

We're not giving the federal government, we're not authorizing to give the federal government any additional power. We are tightening down, though, on accountability features to make sure the system works well.

Now, Bruce Reed will discuss these four areas that the President is proposing these accountability measures -- report cards, letting people know how well their students are doing in education, turning around low-performing schools -- we have the tragic situation in some areas, usually very poor areas, where schools simply aren't working -- ending social promotion that the President has talked about, coupling yet with the opportunity for after-school and summer school programs; teacher quality with a special attention toward teachers who are teaching without certification on these emergency certificates; and also teaching out of field. These are serious, as I say, common sense approaches. And Bruce will discuss them in more detail. And then we'll be happy to respond to your questions.

MR. REED: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. First let me reiterate what the Secretary said, that the President believes that states and communities should continue to have the primary responsibility for education. They should decide what to teach, how to teach it, set their own standards, set their curriculum, set their promotion and graduation standards. But the President believes that schools ought to be held accountable to parents and taxpayers for results.

We invest about $20 billion a year in public schools, and the President's budget includes a number of significant increases in that investment. We have over a billion dollars to take the next step in the President's effort to hire 100,000 teachers to reduce class size in the early grades. We have a substantial new investment in after-school programs. We're tripling the size of aid for after-school, from $200 million in the last budget to $600 million for this year. We have a $200 million increase in money that goes to help states hold low-performing schools accountable for results. We increase assistance to teacher preparation and recruitment, from $75 million to $115 million -- a 53 percent increase.

But we have to make sure that we put in place accountability measures to make sure that we invest in what works and stop investing in what doesn't.

Let me go over the five proposals that are outlined in the fact sheet. First, as you've heard the President say on many occasions, schools need to end the practice of social promotion, in which schoolchildren move from one level to the next without mastering the basics. A number of schools around the country are doing this -- Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington have all stopped social promotion.

The President has talked on many occasions about the success in Chicago where math and reading scores are up three years running, because the school district has said that everybody has to learn before they move up to the next level. And as I said, we're tripling the funds for after-school programs because the point of ending social promotion is not to hold kids back, it's to make sure that they master the material so they can move up. And that takes more investment; it takes extra help for the kids who need it most.

Second, we need to make sure that teachers in these schools are qualified to teach the subjects they're assigned to teach, and that new teachers pass performance and subject matter tests to show that they can do so. There are about 50,000 teachers a year teaching on what's called emergency certificates, particularly in low-income schools. And about 25 percent of the secondary school teachers are assigned to teach a subject in which they don't have a college major.

Third, we think it's extremely important for states to intervene in low-performing schools. This is one of the most successful reforms that's going on at the state level -- 19 states are doing this. States identify a short list of the schools that are doing the worst and then take aggressive actions to intervene to turn those schools around.

In North Carolina, where they began doing this three years ago, they identified 15 low-performing schools, and by last year 14 of those schools were meeting the state's standards. And our budget provides $200 million in new money for states to do this.

Fourth, we think it's important for parents to know what's going on in these schools and that it's necessary for every school to provide a report card to parents to let them know a variety of information about their school, from class size to teacher qualification to the scores the students are getting. And that's a way for parents to make informed choices about public schools and to hold the system accountable at the local level.

And then, finally, we think it's important that schools adopt discipline policies to make sure that classrooms can be a place of learning.

As the Secretary said, we're very committed to flexibility. I think the headline writer for the New York Times got it wrong -- we're not for U.S. control, we're for state and local control. But we want schools held accountable to taxpayers for results.

Q That's what you want, but you said the states have developed these standards by themselves, for themselves. What is the authority, what is the legal authority of the federal government to come in and say, we will see that your standards are enforced?

MR. REED: Well, this whole package will be part of our proposal, legislation that we'll send up later this year for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is the principal law that covers federal assistance to elementary and secondary education.

And as part of that legislation, we're going to continue our effort to provide flexibility, but demand accountability, and make sure that we get performance in low-performing schools, and that we require states and school districts to end social promotion and provide qualified teachers.

Q You're saying that to the extent the federal government funds programs, that these funds are predicated on the schools following their own standards -- is that it?

MR. REED: They can set their own standards, but we want to make sure that they end certain practices, such as passing kids from grade to grade -- or one level of school to the next without meeting those standards --

Q So you cut off federal funds? In other words, I don't understand the mechanism --

MR. REED: The authority is the federal funding mechanism. As a practical matter, I think -- we believe that governors and mayors in both parties are instituting these reforms around the country. These are things that states and cities should do and we think they will want to do. We think they'll comply with this law. If necessary, we would be in a position to make clear that they were not in compliance. I think the public pressure at the local level would be enough to make sure that every state and school district takes these common-sense measures. I don't think there's anyone out there who is going to be wanting to advocate continuing social promotion, continuing the practice of putting unqualified teachers in the classroom, and so on.

Q Is standards testing dead -- national standards testing dead, Secretary Riley?

SECRETARY RILEY: It's not dead, it's now out of our control in terms of the Department of Education has been moved under the National Assessment Governing Board -- NAGB -- and they continue to develop items which is a very lengthy, difficult process. They've not been authorized to use the voluntary national test that was proposed, but they are continuing to develop items, presuming in the future then we could determine what to do with those items and the test process.

Q If you believe states are going to act, or local governments will act on their own anyway, why use the power of the federal purse string to coerce them? And number two, what specific federal dollars might a local school district or a state government lose if it didn't go along with your plan?

MR. REED: Well, first, as Secretary Riley said, we're trying to accelerate the standards movement. I think there are many cities and states that are making real progress, but it's not across the board and it's not fast enough. So we want the kind of success that North Carolina and Maryland and Texas and other states are having to translate into success in other places.

And the schools that are hurting the worst are the poorest schools, the schools that are most dependent, in fact, on this kind of assistance. There's a variety of programs that go -of federal assistance programs that go to the schools. The largest is Title One, which is about $8 billion a year in federal money to low-income schools. I think that -- as I said, the first step that we would take, the first step the Secretary would take, would be to make sure that a state was in compliance, let them know that they weren't in compliance and try to build public pressure for that to change.

If necessary, I think the -- we'd have a variety of tools at our disposal, including withholding state administrative funds, which is a penalty that targets that state bureaucrats, not the kids.

Q Are you saying that all of the $20 billion that the federal government supplies to the states will be conditioned on meeting these sort of standards, these standards that you're setting out, or these accountability proposals you're setting out?

MR. REED: The conditions would apply across the board to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is the authorizing legislation for that money. As I've said, the likeliest action, if action from Washington was necessary, would be to tell a state that it's administrative funds were at risk, which is a small portion of that.

Q -- applies to all federal funds, is that right?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, we're going into this process of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That's a very important measure, that for this next year, perhaps two years. So the President really is looking at that.

Five years ago when we got into the standards process -- now we're looking at reauthorization. So that brings all of these issues up. And when you look then at the entirety of that act, and then this does speed up in terms of the time frame that are called for now and makes these accountability features very clear, but it would also discuss then in this discussion over the next year or so how then you would assure that these accountability features are reached.

And as Bruce mentioned, you could look at administrative funds under one of these programs -- for example, the state gets like one percent of the funds and the rest goes down to the students. So those processes will be developed then, how to make sure these accountability features are reached.

The important thing, I think, is the leadership ability of the President to get everybody tuned into this business of education, and to get them serious about it. More serious than they have been before. A lot of -- most of our schools are doing very well and are involved in this standards movement in a very exciting way. Yet there are places out there that things aren't happening. Then you can't attract good teachers to those places. So they have teachers who are teaching without certificates, with emergency certificates, who are teaching out of field; teachers in a very difficult area teaching in high schools physics that didn't major in physics, didn't minor in physics. They're in there trying to learn physics along with the students.

Those kinds of things -- the federal dollars that are going into -- that's the people's money going down to serve the people's children. And it is absolutely important that these very basic accountability features be put in place. How, then, if a state or a school district says no, we're going to maintain these low-performing schools who are not going to do anything about it, of course, then that would call for a look at what then to do about it. But I would say the first thing to look at is the administrative part of those funds.

Q Mr. Secretary, how much of this can you accomplish without Congress's active participation, given that Speaker Hastert and Senator Majority Leader Lott have just sent the President a letter calling for more local control, which would -- perhaps Republicans might say argue against what you're doing, and given that your efforts last year both to boost school construction money and to press the national standards program received very little support on Capitol Hill? How much of this can you do this year without Congress's participation?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will have to be reauthorized by Congress. And that's where really the guts of these features will be. So I think you're exactly right, it will be a discussion then, a very interesting discussion, a high-level discussion. We are in now talking about how we reach high standards for all children, how do you get standards down into a particular classroom. So that is going to be part of that debate.

The President then is in a leadership way, is submitting these accountability features as a way for this country to get very, very serious about education and reaching high standards for all children. But it will be certainly an involvement with Congress across the board in all of these elementary and secondary education matters.

Q Mr. Secretary, you said there are places out there where things aren't happening. Can you tell us who some of the worst offenders are, where are some of the places where things aren't happening? And number two, this talks about discipline policies, all the states have to adopt that. Is there a minimum federal standard for discipline policies, or can every state just say, okay, we've got this policy -- you can't chew gum -- and another one says you can't hit people? But I'm interested in the worst offenders, too.

MR. REED: I'll let Secretary Riley get to that point in a second. As I said, on all these issues, we're not telling states or school districts what standards to set, what codes to set. What we're pushing here is fully consistent with local control. We're not telling a state or school district how to fix a failing school, but we're telling them, if a school isn't working they have to fix it. And I think that there is no good reason why anyone in Congress, Republican or Democrat, would quarrel with the basic principle that taxpayer dollars ought to support results.

Q Mr. Secretary, you were going to --

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I don't want to point out any specific schools just off --

Q Why not?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, if you go into any state, practically all the states have identified schools that are failing. And that's their job. This just says that they need to do that, they need to follow through with it. When I was governor of my state, we put in, back in the early '80s, a law that identified failing schools and a state procedure to come back in and take over those schools and put in new superintendents and other officials over a period of time until the schools got straightened out. And then they would take back over the schools. That is a practice and those schools were clearly identified, and everybody knows who they were.

And it surprised me to know, when I thought it was going to be a very controversial thing, for the state to be requiring schools to be having good results -- and if they had poor results, after putting in all kinds of measures, then they could really come in and take them over. That's a very dramatic power for the state to have. And it surprised me that the parents of these children -- usually they were in very poor areas -- I think in all cases, very poor; some rural, mostly urban -- that the state coming in and taking them over was supported by the people there. Parents don't want their children going to failing schools. So this is pro-parent, it's pro-student.

Q What makes a failing school? Does it mean the kids aren't getting the high grades or --

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, it's a results orientation. So grades are part of it, test scores are a part of it. But you look at other things --

Q But someone is to blame?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, we're not hunting for blame as much as we are a process to correct it. Usually the blame is poverty. You have a broken-down community and you have gangs and you have drugs all around in a community, unfortunately. And then the school right there in that community suffers seriously. So the whole -- as I mentioned, the standards movement identifies all processes within the system -- which is parents, and it's teachers, and it's principals, and it's everything -- the community must work together to reach those high standards. And when everything is working together, it happens.

In failing schools, those things aren't working together. Usually, practically any of them -- none of them are working. And people can tell you in a state what the failing schools are. They have state tests, they have -- as you say -- grades in school, they have discipline problems, they have drug problems, or whatever.

Q If the root cause of this is poverty in these impoverished school districts, it seems to me that one of two things would have to happen. Either you'd have to generate more revenue locally, or you'd have to shift revenue from wealthier school districts to the less-wealthy school districts. Is that what you would envision happening, one of those two things happening?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, that is a state issue. As you know, it's been upheld by the Supreme Court to be a state issue. The equity -- let me finish the answer in terms of what these proposals are. When we talk then about a failing school, the proposal is to put $200 million in there, in a very tough budget year, with all the caps pressing down us, put $200 million in there to help those failing schools reach a category where they are moving forward, and in terms of the social promotion. As you know, the President proposed an increase of $400 million, a total of $600 million, to go into the after-school, summer school programs. So I mean, these are incentives, plus ways to help with resources to reach these accountability features.

Q Mr. Secretary, what if you have a state such as Virginia where you have strong standards of learning and accountability already -- are you saying that if you don't abide by the federal timetable, then you might restrict administrative funds?

SECRETARY RILEY: I'm saying if you've got a state that has very good accountability features, has high standards and they're driving for high standards and working in a way that has all the process working together, virtually none of these accountability features would fall on them. They report to the people how kids are doing. If they're having a failing school, they go in there and do something to correct it. So I don't think if you've got a state that is working well and school districts that are working well -- these come in and apply where the system is not working well.

Q Thank you.

END 12:40 P.M. EST