How Inclusive Education Can Transform the World

Remarks of the Honorable Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education given at the October 8, 2003 Meeting of the Wilson Council

Oct 21, 2003

Thank you. Congressman Lee Hamilton, your stewardship and guidance have been enormously beneficial for the Center. Along with Chairman Joseph Gildenhorn and Council President Bruce Gelb, you have continued the many contributions of the Center to public policy and vital scholarship. On behalf of all who benefit from your good work, many thanks.

Last week, I was in Paris as the head of the U.S. delegation, participating in the ceremonies where the United States rejoined UNESCO after a 19-year absence. Education was high on the agenda. Mrs. Bush gave the keynote presentation as UNESCO's Honorary Ambassador for the "Decade of Literacy."

Our renewed participation in UNESCO was widely praised. We rejoined because we have much to learn and much to share. We want to advance fundamental freedoms and counter those who would steal freedom from others. Our re-entry will provide opportunities for American teachers and scholars to participate in a wide range of international educational activities.

And we have a good friend in Director General Matsuura, who has done so much to reform that organization. UNESCO will be an important forum for the United States to advance global literacy, freedom of the press, and the greater diffusion of science, humanities, and the arts.

Global literacy must be high on our agenda. UNESCO coordinates the "Education For All" initiative, an effort to dramatically improve global literacy by 2015.

This program forges global and regional educational partnerships, provides and directs necessary resources and funding to educational efforts, and tracks progress to monitor achievement.

We will certainly support this effort. It clearly parallels the No Child Left Behind process, which is bedrock for our domestic agenda. I will speak more about our domestic efforts in a moment.

The global situation is desperate. According to UNESCO, in the year 2000, more than 862 million people were illiterate. Let me put that into perspective: one out of every five people on our planet can't read. More than 60 percent of these people live in four countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China.

One difficulty is that at least 73 countries are dealing with violence from internal conflicts or are engaged in post-conflict reconstruction. We must be especially cognizant of the needs of countries emerging from war or poverty. This point was recently discussed in Mexico City at the Third Inter-American Educational Ministerial, at which I was honored to represent my country. I know it will also be a point of discussion at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in January 2004.

Education is one answer to violence. There is a growing consensus that education is the best short-term and long-term means for healing, progress, and stability. It is certainly one of the most effective ways to fight terrorism, addressing both the root causes and the fanaticism that fuel hatred.

Another difficulty we share—-developed or developing countries alike-—is the global teacher's shortage. By 2015, we will need an extra 15 to 35 million more teachers globally to achieve universal primary literacy.

There is some good news--news that gives us hope. More than 3.3 billion people can read and write, 3 times as many as 40 years ago. Some 83 countries, accounting for one third of the world's population, are on track to achieve UNESCO's literacy goals. Rapid growth in literacy is taking place in South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, UNESCO estimates that the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa will not achieve any of the UNESCO goals for universal primary education, gender equality, or significant reductions in the illiteracy rate.

One problem facing many of these countries is the devastation of HIV/AIDS. Our country has assumed a leadership role in providing HIV/AIDS funding to support education. President Bush recently made a visit to Senegal, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, and Botswana. The President's trip came in the wake of his initiative to provide $15 billion to African countries for fighting HIV/AIDS. This is a visionary effort, laying a foundation for better health status, greater stability, and better education. The best way to stop the spread of HIV infection is through strident education efforts.

Millions of people have already died from HIV/AIDS. Millions more suffer. And, in many countries, HIV/AIDS is having a devastating impact on students, teachers, and the operation of schools. There have been dramatic declines in attendance and achievement due to death by HIV-infection. I know in some countries the required extra recruitment of teachers ranges from 20 to 60 percent because of attrition due to HIV infection.

If we want to increase global literacy we must stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

So far, I have spoken of the international situation. Now, let me turn to domestic matters. We don't have to look overseas to witness disparities in achievement. Three weeks ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a disturbing report. Our educational gains may be slipping away. The findings indicate students in other countries are rapidly overtaking American students. American students read, write, and do math at rates lower than students in Asia and Europe.

This is a shocking report, especially because it also documents that we spend more per student than any of the other OECD countries. Yet, we receive insufficient results. The report makes it unarguably clear that if current educational attainments are allowed to continue, underachievement will be a disaster, not only for our students, but our nation as well. The report shows that nearly every European and Asian country in OECD has made sizeable gains in educational achievement.

Today, our high school reading, mathematics, and other skills fall below students in many other countries. Graduation rates for American high school students fall short of the OECD averages. Every year this country has a million young people who should graduate from high school, but don't. Another 3 million high school students are formally enrolled, but are low-performing.

Surprisingly, some people don't believe the data. A lot of critics try to ignore these findings, saying we have one of the finest educational systems in the world. After all, we produce Nobel Prize winners, physics champions—you name it. Well, we do have some wonderful elementary, secondary and tertiary schools. But we also have some schools that aren't making the grade, as the OECD report clearly shows.

We can no longer close our eyes. One writer put it this way: "Indifference and apathy have one name—betrayal." I believe we betray the trust of parents and students when schools fail to educate.

Certainly, we must do better. The President recognized this fact and made education a top domestic priority of this Administration. Unless we make every effort to improve our schools, our global economic and scientific leadership will be jeopardized. The future itself may hang in the balance. Our children and grandchildren's world will be complex, inter-related, and global. In the future, I fear only the well educated will have the necessary skills, insight, and imagination to succeed. Those who are unprepared will sit on the sidelines, confronting poverty, dead-end jobs, and hopelessness. They will find little choice, and much despair. The well educated will live in a world of their own choosing; the poorly educated will wander in the shadows. I'm glad to say there is a solution to this problem. The President and the Congress have given us the tools we need to reform our educational system—the No Child Left Behind Act.

Because of No Child Left Behind, we will make progress. In the past few weeks, millions of our children have made a pilgrimage back to their schools. When they crossed the campus threshold, they entered a new era. Yes, many of their past teachers are still there. The buildings are swept and cleaned, and they still look the same. Yet, something is different.

For the first time in the history of our nation, every state in our nation has an accountability plan that holds all schools and all students in their state to the same high standards.

For the first time in our nation parents and teachers have the information they need to work together to make sure no child is left behind. Every child counts. No Child Left Behind focuses attention on the children who most need our help; but it benefits all children.

Thanks to No Child Left Behind, I'm proud to report that all across the country, communities are making progress in reforming their schools. This fall, parents in economically disadvantaged school districts can get information about how well their school is performing, about their teacher's qualifications, and about whether their school is safe. Schools and teachers will have detailed information about their students' achievement, so that they can adapt their lessons and better serve ALL their students.

Parents of students attending high-need schools will receive a letter telling them they have options if their child's school hasn't made sufficient progress over the last couple years. And they will find that this year they have more federal funding, the highest federal support in history.

The President has invested historic levels of funding in education—focused on the areas that most need help. His latest budget request boosts Federal education funding to levels that represent a 25 percent increase since he took office.

The President has also worked to secure an historic $5 billion in his Reading First Program. This money will give current teachers the support and assistance they need to teach reading using the very best methods. But we'll keep losing ground if our schools continue to produce teachers who haven't had access to these methods.

We have also announced a $4.5 million grant to the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) to launch the Reading First Teacher Preparation Network. This initiative will be a partnership between the U.S. Department of Education and several organizations. The initiative will allow reading professors from 25 institutions to participate in the best training available on scientifically-based reading instruction, so that they can make sure that their students—our future teachers—have a solid foundation.

We must do all of this, and more. Education is the common denominator of all people, the road to emancipation and liberty, the way we find our humanity and discover our soul.

Education is the surest road to peace and prosperity, freedom and democracy. There was a saying in Ancient Greece: "Only the educated are free." I agree with this statement. Education equals freedom.

In 1919, in Pueblo, Colorado, Woodrow Wilson delivered his last speech he gave before his stroke. President Wilson spoke of the importance of American leadership in a global community. He ended that speech with these words: "There is one thing that the American people always rise to and extend their hand to, and that is the truth of justice and of liberty and of peace."

He spoke those words over 80 years ago, but they are still correct. We remain willing to lead international engagement for freedom and peace. I believe that our leadership will be measured in many ways. But one of those measurements will be our ability to increase literacy, abroad and at home. Our return to UNESCO signifies a long-term commitment to literacy efforts worldwide.

"Education For All" and No Child Left Behind are more than attempts to extend reading and mathematical skill to all people; they are the blueprints for a fully engaged, dynamic, innovative, and caring world. They show us how to successfully begin to transform our world.

We must have the will. And I believe we do.

Thank you.

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