Education is now the currency of the Information Age. It's no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success - it's a pre-requisite.
There simply aren't as many jobs today that can support a family where only a high school degree is required. And if you don't have that degree, there are even fewer jobs available that can keep you out of poverty.
China Graduating 800% More Engineers
In this kind of economy, countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. Already, China is graduating eight times as many engineers as we are.
By twelfth grade, our children score lower on math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And we now have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation in the world.
- Well I do not accept this future for America. I do not accept an America where we do nothing about six million students who are reading below their grade level - an America where sixty percent of African-American fourth graders aren't even reading at the basic level.
- I do not accept an America where only twenty percent of our students are prepared to take college-level classes in English, math, and science - where barely one in ten low-income students will ever graduate from college.
- I do not accept an America where we do nothing about the fact that half of all teenagers are unable to understand basic fractions - where nearly nine in ten African-American and Latino eighth graders are not proficient in math.
- I do not accept an America where elementary school kids are only getting an average of twenty-five minutes of science each day when we know that over 80% of the fastest-growing jobs require a knowledge base in math and science.
This kind of America is morally unacceptable for our children. It's economically untenable for our future. And it's not who we are as a country.
Living Up to Thomas Jefferson's Vision
We are the country that has always believed in Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "...talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth or birth."
- It's this belief that led America to set up the first free public schools in small New England towns.
- It's a promise we kept as we moved from a nation of farms to factories and created a system of public high schools so that everyone had the chance to succeed in a new economy.
- It's a promise we expanded after World War II, when America gave my grandfather and over two million returning heroes the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.
That's who we are. That's why I can stand here today. Because somebody stood up when it was hard; stood up when it was risky. Because even though my mother didn't have a lot of money, scholarships gave me the chance to go to some of the best schools in the country.
And I am running for President of the United States because I want to give every American child the same chances that I had.
In this election - at this defining moment - we can decide that this century will be another American century by making an historic commitment to education.
We can make a commitment that's more than just the rhetoric of a campaign - one that's more than another empty promise made by a politician looking for your vote.
Bush, Congress Sabotaged No Child Left Behind
I often say that the problem with No Child Left Behind is that George Bush left the money behind. And it wasn't just him, either.
It's pretty popular to bash No Child Left Behind out on the campaign trail, but when it was being debated in Congress four years ago, my colleague Dick Durbin offered everyone a chance to vote so that the law couldn't be enforced unless it was fully funded.
Senator Edwards and Senator Clinton passed on that chance, and I believe that was a serious mistake.
Because I think we'd all agree that the goals of this law were the right ones. Making a promise to educate every child with an excellent teacher is right. Closing the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and rural areas is right. Making sure that necessary resources and qualified teachers are distributed equitably among every city and small town is right. More accountability is right. Higher standards are right.
The Mistakes and Wrongs of NCLB
But I'll tell you what's wrong with No Child Left Behind:
- Forcing our teachers, our principals, and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong.
- Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and the pay for those teachers behind is wrong.
- Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.
And by the way - don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend most of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test.
Don't tell us that these tests have to come at the expense of music, or art, or phys. ed., or science. These tests shouldn't come at the expense of a well-rounded education - they should help complete that well-rounded education.
The teachers I've met didn't devote their lives to testing, they devoted them to teaching, and teaching our children is what they should be allowed to do.