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EXITING AS HE ENTERED: President Bush Uses Last Policy Speech as President to Observe NCLB’s Seventh Anniversary and Encourage Congress to Reauthorize the Law

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“an education system that’s responsive to the children, an education system that educates every child, an education system that I’m confident can exist; one that’s based upon sound fundamental curriculum, one that starts teaching children to read early in life, one that focuses on systems that do work, one that heralds our teachers and makes sure they’ve got the necessary tools to teach, but one that says every child can learn. And in this great land called America, no child will be left behind.”

On January 23, 2001, three days after his inauguration, George W. Bush delivered his first policy speech as president of the United States and outlined the ideas and principals behind what would become the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

“We’ve got one thing in mind,” Bush said, “an education system that’s responsive to the children, an education system that educates every child, an education system that I’m confident can exist; one that’s based upon sound fundamental curriculum, one that starts teaching children to read early in life, one that focuses on systems that do work, one that heralds our teachers and makes sure they’ve got the necessary tools to teach, but one that says every child can learn. And in this great land called America, no child will be left behind.”

Nearly eight years later, on January 8, 2009, at General Philip Kearny School in Philadelphia, President Bush delivered his last policy speech. This one was also on education and timed to coincide with the seventh anniversary of the signing of NCLB. In the speech, Bush retraced the origins of the landmark education law, which included a conversation with a high school history teacher who told him that his students could not read.

He also pointed to the law as an example of how Democrats and Republicans can come together in the name of reform; he took the opportunity to thank Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH), as well as Congressmen George Miller (D-CA) and John Boehner (R-OH), with whom he worked to get the legislation passed. “I believe that in signing that bill we enacted the most sweeping education reforms in a long, long time,” Bush said.

Bush addressed some common complaints about the law, but stressed that there was no debating NCLB’s results. Specifically, he mentioned having accountability plans in all fifty states, disaggregated data, a focus on the achievement gap, highly qualified teachers, and research-proven strategies for reading instruction. Bush also highlighted the Teacher Incentive Fund, the law’s supplemental services provision, and greater numbers of charter schools as evidence of the law’s success. “The most important result of the No Child Left Behind is this: Fewer students are falling behind; more students are achieving high standards,” Bush said.

At the end of his speech, Bush addressed the individuals responsible for NCLB’s future, urging the Congress to strengthen and reauthorize the law. “There is a growing consensus across the country that now is not the time to water down standards or to roll back accountability,” Bush said. “I call upon those who can determine the fate of No Child Left Behind in the future to stay strong in the face of criticism, to not weaken the law—because in weakening the law, you weaken the chance for a child to succeed in America—but to strengthen the law for the sake of every child.”

President Bush’s complete speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2009/01/20090108-2.html.

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