Our country is in good economic times, and at peace. Are we at a moment of
opportunity when major strides can be made toward improving our schools?
Bush is the governor of Texas and the Republican presidential candidate in the 2000 election.
We better make major strides toward improving our schools, because the real
challenge as we go into the twenty-first century is to make sure children don't
get left behind. The real challenge is, as our economy shifts from brawn to
brain, that our children have got the capacity to take advantage of the hope
and promise of America.
Education has got to be the cornerstone of domestic policy. And I think we can
get it right. I'm an optimist. I believe every child can learn. And I
believe, if given the right plans and the right vision, every child will learn.
One of the interesting things about this campaign this year is that both you
and the Vice President are making education a big priority, and you're saying
some of the same things: failing schools need to be fixed; money has to be
spent; and accountability is important. How would you comment on that?
The Republican Party has been unfairly cast as a party that doesn't seem to
care about public education. I can challenge that with authority, because I've
been a governor who has cared deeply about public education; a governor whose
state has got an exemplary record of educating all children. We lead the
nation, I'm proud to report, along with North Carolina, when it comes to
objective assessments of student performance. We lead the nation in
improvement amongst minority students, for example. And I am proud of that
And I am proud of leading our party to be a party that cares about the
education of our children, and the strength of the public school system in
America. We can talk the same words. The real question is, is there real
meaning behind the words? I look forward to the debate with my worthy opponent
You mentioned the word "accountability". No question that we need to have more
accountability in our society. Accountability in the public school system is
one of the key ingredients to make sure children just don't get left behind.
The fundamental question is: is there any accountability, any consequence to an
accountability system? It's one thing to measure. It's another thing to hold
people accountable for poor results. And I think you're going to find there's
a difference of opinion there.
When it comes to failing schools, it seems one of the big differences
between you and the Vice President is what you would do with Title I. People
are calling your proposal a national voucher plan, because you take that money
away from the schools and give it to the parents to spend as they saw fit. So
you have any sense of how much money that would be per student in a failing
It depends on the school, of course, and the number of students there are. A
Title I school depends upon the number of Title I students. But let me talk
about this kind of hyperbole that oftentimes enters the political process.
People want to scare people. That's the kind of tactics that I have to battle
Here's what I've said. I've said that any time the federal government spends
money, we ought to expect accountability. We ought to expect a return on our
dollar spent, which says, if you receive money, we expect you to measure. And
we're going to want you to measure on an annual basis. We want to know. We
want to know whether or not the children are learning to read and write and add
So step one is, in return for money, there's accountability. Step two is, in
return for success, there'll be bonuses. And step three is, in return for
failure--if the schools are not fulfilling the promise and hope, if they're not
teaching children--then something has to happen. We cannot continue to pour
money into schools that won't teach.
And so what I have said is, as opposed to subsidizing failure, we ought to free
the parent to make a different choice. It could be a public school. It could
be a charter school. It could be a tutorial. It could be anything other than
the status quo.
Now here's the difference of opinion. This kind of hyperbole saying, "Oh,
they're taking money from public schools," assumes that children can't learn.
I believe children can learn. My plan says after three years, if standards are
met, no problem.
The Vice President has been pushed by what you've done and what you've said.
He wants to close failing schools and use Title I money to reopen them with a
new principal, new teachers--a reconstituted school.
No. The Vice President is not demanding annual accountability, and therefore
you don't know whether or not children are learning or not learning. There
needs to be strong accountability measures. And in all due respect to the Vice
President, I don't think his accountability system has got the necessary teeth
to make sure that children don't get left behind.
So you don't think it would be necessarily a good idea to use the Title I
money in that way to improve the school and then reopen it? You'd rather give
money to the parents?
No, I think the school can improve. If you set high standards and high
expectations, and you hold people accountable, people will rise to the
challenge. Because you see, I believe that poor people can learn. I don't
condemn children to failure because of their economic status.
This mindset that says, "Oh, Bush's plan will take money from public schools,"
automatically assumes children can't learn. Because what I've said is,
"Obviously, we're going to continue to fund Title I programs. But we expect
children to learn."
How does this assume that children cannot learn?
Because if you say that my plan is going to take money out of public schools,
you've just said that there is no way these children can meet
standards--because when they meet standards, money is not going to leave the
The Vice President calls this proposal "fool's gold" because . . .
The Vice President likes to call people names all the time. And what the
education debate needs is not name-calling or finger-pointing, or trying to
scare people. The education debate needs a good honest discussion about what
I've seen what works in my state. It's important to have leadership set high
standards. I believe all children can learn. And it's important to challenge
failure. When we find children trapped in failed schools, it's incredibly
important to challenge that mediocrity. I call it "the soft bigotry of low
We went to Cleveland, which has had a very troubled school system. One
thing they've done to change that is to put in a voucher program. And almost
all the kids there go to Catholic schools. Do you see any problem with
taxpayers' money going to a religious education?
No. I don't at all. What I have trouble with is people accepting failure, with
people turning a blind eye to the fact that schools are not teaching children.
And I also have trouble with the federal government mandating school systems to
behave one way or the other.
. . . School choice as an alternative is up to the citizens of Ohio to decide.
I strongly support local control of schools. I believe the next president
ought to work with Congress to pass power out of Washington, to say that you
can get federal money, and you're going to get flexibility and authority to
meet your needs. Cleveland, Ohio, is different from Houston, Texas, in many
ways. One size simply doesn't fit all.
The difference between me and my opponent is that I know the best education
reforms come from the bottom up, not the top down. The best way to encourage
excellence for every single child is to free people to innovate, and to
encourage educational entrepreneurships, whether or not choice and charters
are a part of that freedom. But the federal government should not mandate
choice and charters.
You used the word "entrepreneurial." A lot of people think that schools
really need to be improved. But then when you put the issue of profit in
there, people back off a little bit. What do you think about the operations in
Ohio who are running schools on a profit-making basis?
Here's my question: are the children learning? So much of the debate is
focused on process. I'm going to focus the debate on results and
accountability. If the children are meeting standards, we ought to applaud the
delivery mechanism. We ought to say, "Thanks, I appreciate your doing a good
job." So I welcome all kinds of innovation into the system, recognizing,
again, that one size doesn't fit all, and understanding that the best reforms
are those that have been tried at the local level.
My state of Texas is diverse. But one of the things we do at the state level
is to share what works. "So-and-so has tried it in this district, and let's
share with others." But there's some commonality, though, between all success.
And that is high standards, high expectations, aligning authority and
responsibility at the local level, and having an accountability system with
. . . What do you think your most important legacy is going to be as
governor of Texas, with regard to the schools?
I think the reading initiative that we put in place--a full-scale assault on
illiteracy. It's a reading initiative coupled with the notion that we're going
to end social promotion in schools by having early intervention into children's
And this wasn't just an idea, or just a statement. This is a strategy. We've
changed our curriculum. We've got some of the best scientists in the world to
come and help Texas rewrite our reading curriculum. We've got a K-through-2
diagnostic tool that can now be used to determine whether or not children need
extra help in reading.
We've got money set aside for schools within schools to battle illiteracy.
We've got a massive teacher retraining program, to make sure our elementary
school teachers have got the tools necessary to teach reading. We've set a
measurable goal, and it's going to change the face of Texas.
How have you been able to manage the bipartisanship? The Democrats and the
head of the teachers' union speak very well of how you approached all this.
I appreciate that. . . . Here's the thing. It requires an attitude. I wanted
to work with people. And I share credit. I signed the education reform bill
in Democrat Paul [Sadler's] hometown, because I wanted to send a signal that
Paul Sadler had worked so hard for the good of Texas, along with Senator
[Ratliff], a Republican, and Governor Bush and others, Lieutenant Governor
[Bullock] and Speaker [Laney], all of us, Republican and Democrat alike, made
the decision not to let partisanship interfere with what was right for the
schools. That's what's needed in Washington, by the way. But it starts with
having a leader who understands how to lead, not someone whose first instinct
is to try to tear somebody down and scare people. And that's what happens in
the education debate, and that's what's happening to my plan. People are using
shrill voices to frighten people. That's not the way I campaign.
. . . You mentioned that, in some cases, there needed to be scholarships for
America's neediest children.
That's what I was talking about, the Title I program--schools that will
perform. But if not, the money goes to the parent, as I mentioned in Title I.
We were referring to the Title I initiative.
How do you see the parents . . . if I'm a parent, and my child is in a
failing school, I'll get the money--what do you think I'll do with it?
Hopefully, you'll find a better place for your child to go to school. It could
be a Catholic school, or another public school, or a newly started charter
school. But the point is that there has to be a consequence.
Again, the debate oftentimes focuses on process, and many times forgets the
child. But I've seen schools where children just simply get shuffled through.
See, it's so much easier to say, "How old are you? Oh, you're 10, you're
supposed to be here. If you're 14, you're supposed to be there."
And what ends up happening is that children just get moved through, whether or
not they've got the skills necessary to master what we want them to master. So
I've started to ask the question in my state, and intend to do so as the
president: what do you know? And if you don't know what you're supposed to
know, we'll make sure you do early, before it's too late.
So it's an attitude; it's a mindset that is so important. This is a process
world, oftentimes in education. We ask these process questions about what
building, or this that and the other. And the question really needs to be: is
it working? Are children learning? And if they are, we need to sing praises
to the teachers who are working tirelessly to help our kids.
But if they're not, we better have leadership bold enough to challenge the
status quo. It's particularly important as we head into the twenty-first
century--because the whole economy and the nature of information are going to
what do the candidates say? ·
how bad are public schools? ·
is "choice" the answer? ·
video excerpt ·
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