Remarks on Receiving the Department of Education Report on Improving Education
March 4, 1986
Secretary Bennett. Mr. President, I would like formally to present you a copy of ``What Works.'' It is aimed at the improvement of the education of our children.
The President. Thank you very much, and thank you Secretary Bennett. Ladies and gentlemen, in the last few years the American people have been asking, what can they do to improve American education, and today I think we have some pretty good ideas. Let me interject right here that it is quite a novelty for me to have principals visiting my office. [Laughter]
I'm pleased to be here today to help Secretary Bennett present this book that is called ``What Works.'' And you all know, I'm sure by now, that before you leave here today you will be receiving this particular report. This little book is only 65 pages long, and that's pretty short by Washington standards. But there's more practical, useful information packed into these 65 pages than in a whole mountain of most government documents. This book is for the American people, parents, teachers, principals, school board members, State legislators, and any adult who is responsible for the education of a child. And it tells you exactly what the title says: what works when it comes to teaching and learning.
The Department of Education has gathered the best available research. We know from experience that certain tools work and work well when it comes to teaching and learning, and this is a practical guide to those tools. ``What Works'' makes its appearance at just the right time, because we've had some encouraging news about our schools lately. Just 2 weeks ago we learned that since 1982 senior high school students in 35 States have improved their academic performance. We learned that graduation rates are up and dropout rates are down. And last year, as many of you know, SAT scores rose 9 points, and that was the largest annual gain since 1963.
Yes, we are making progress, and this book can keep us going in the right direction. When you look inside ``What Works'' you'll discover that some of the research findings aren't really very surprising. That's because sound educational practice is based on something Americans know a lot about: plain, old-fashioned common sense. On discipline, for example, ``What Works'' says this: ``Schools contribute to their students' academic achievement by establishing, communicating, and enforcing fair and consistent education policies.'' That's good to know because for 16 out of the last 17 years Americans have said that lack of discipline is their number-one concern about schools. Here in Washington we've been addressing this concern. Our Department of Justice has supported efforts to make sure that teachers, principals, and school administrators have the authority they need to run orderly schools. And at my request the Departments of Justice and Education are examining initiatives that would enhance the ability of State and local officials in maintaining school discipline.
On the importance of teaching our children character, ``What Works'' is just as forceful: ``Many highly successful individuals have above-average but not extraordinary intelligence. Accomplishment in a particular activity is often more dependent upon hard work and self-discipline than on innate ability.'' Well, again, that's good to know, because Bill Bennett and I have joined thousands of teachers and parents in arguing that we should teach our children fundamental values like respect for hard work. On a related subject, our administration has called repeatedly for tougher academic standards. And, indeed, academic standards have been rising across the country as the education reform movement has made itself felt. But is there any evidence that higher standards actually make a difference? Well, flip to page 59 of ``What Works'': ``The stronger the emphasis on academic courses, the more advanced the subject matter, and the rigorous the textbooks, the more high school students learn.'' Homework is another aspect of education that Bill Bennett and I have joined parents and teachers in stressing. And again the research in ``What Works'' is conclusive: ``Student achievement rises significantly when teachers regularly assign homework and students conscientiously do it.''
So there we have it. ``What Works'' confirms the common sense of the American people. Teachers in the old days may have worn granny glasses and taught in one-room schoolhouses, while today's teachers jog to work and use computers in the classroom. But teachers still know what they're doing when they must tell Johnny to behave, ask questions in class, and do his homework every night. And good teachers still know what good teachers have always known: We don't need a lot of government interference and fancy gimmicks to produce good schools. What we need is to concentrate hard on basic academic subjects and fundamental moral values.
Nearly 3 years ago, our administration issued a report called ``A Nation At Risk'' that made headlines. That report concluded: ``If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.'' Well, ``A Nation At Risk'' spoke to the American people as a whole about the crisis in our schools.
``What Works'' speaks to individual parents and teachers about what can be done for a given child in a given school. We still have much to do, and this splendid little book, ``What Works,'' will help us get on with the job. It's a job we must do for our children and for our country. And the voices -- or the words of James Madison, words quoted in ``What Works'': ``Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.''
Well, Bill Bennett, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for joining us here today. And I want to close by reminding you all that this edition of ``What Works'' is only the first installment; more booklets have already been planned. So, Bill, after spending so much time here at the White House, when this is over, I expect you to get crackin'. [Laughter]
Well, thank you all, and God bless you.
Secretary Bennett. Mr. President, I was telling the audience before you came that memorization figures in this book fairly prominently, and I am told that you're the world champion memorizer. Do you recall something that starts ``There are strange things done in the midnight sun . . .''?
The President. ``. . . by the men who moil for gold.'' [Laughter]
Secretary Bennett. ``The Arctic trails have their secret tales . . .''
The President. ``. . . that would make your blood run cold.'' [Laughter]
Secretary Bennett. I give up. I give up. I give up. Do you want to finish, Mr. President?
The President. I don't know whether in school they still read Robert W. Service but to just conclude that particular stanza, it would then be: ``There are strange things -- '' No, we've done that. All right.
Secretary Bennett. ``The North Lights have seen . . .''
The President. ``The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see was that night in the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee.'' [Laughter] Note: The President spoke at 1:27 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett presented the report to the President in a ceremony attended by parents, educators, and officials from the Department of Education.