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Statement of Secretary Paige at the UNESCO Round Table of Ministers on Quality Education

"This educational mission unites us. UNESCO is a powerful forum for sharing our views, developing a common strategy, and implementing joint action. I look forward to working with each UNESCO member." October 3, 2003
US Department of Education

October 3, 2003

PARIS -- U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige delivered the following statement today at the Round Table of Ministers on Quality Education during the 32nd session of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which 80 ministers of education from around the world attended:

"The United States is pleased to return to UNESCO and to participate in meetings like this. I am also very pleased to see many friends from the Third Inter-American Education Ministerial in Mexico City.

"There and here, we agree that we must make education a universal reality. Our governments have entrusted us with the responsibility of preparing our children to become citizens of the world. We are here to share and learn.

"I appreciate the opportunity to discuss briefly some of the ways we are addressing educational disparities in the United States. Although we have some of the best schools and universities in the world, we also have a substantial number of students - mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds - who are being left behind. When President Bush took office, he saw these problems and decided to tackle them head on through a program called No Child Left Behind. UNESCO, through the great leadership of Director General Matsuura, knows the importance of education on a global level by coordinating the Education For All initiative.

"Education for All is consistent with our recent education legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress passed President Bush's reform proposal with support from both our political parties. Now I spend my days, along with thousands of educators throughout the United States, implementing these historic reforms.

"Under this law, we are helping children in all our schools learn early the fundamental skill upon which all others is based -- reading. President Bush set the goal that every child must learn to read by the third grade. We are now using research that shows us how children learn to read, and what teaching methods work best. And President Bush is providing the funding and support to make sure we succeed in this.

"Despite all the priorities competing for our tax dollars, President Bush has continued to invest historic levels of funding in education. His latest budget request boosts education funding to levels that represent a 25 percent increase since he took office. But, there is something different about the way we are using these new resources.

"We are focused on the result of this investment. And in education, the most important result is student learning. We are at an historic moment in education in the United States. For the first time ever, every state will test all students every year, in grades 3 through 8 (ages 8 to 13), so that we know whether our students are making progress. And we expect progress from all students, not just some.

"Tests are also our best way to identify the students that most need our help. We can use this information in time to solve the problem, instead of dealing with the ramifications of a poor education at a later date.

"We are also focused on improving teaching. We are insisting that teachers know deeply the subjects they teach. Our new law protects teachers from being forced to teach a subject they don't know well, and ensures that students have a quality teacher with the expertise to guide them through a difficult subject.

"We are focusing on teaching because research tells us that the effect of a good teacher outweighs all the other challenges a child may bring to school. Yes, children in all our countries bear many burdens. They may enter hungry, without two parents to support them, or even a safe place to go at night, to name a few. But once students enter the schoolhouse door, we must help them learn because whatever the challenge, education is the answer. It is the road to freedom and democracy. So while we work to improve our education system domestically, we are committed to working with you in the cause of greater literacy for all people, in all nations.

"I fully agree with the UNESCO members that education must be for all, including all children regardless of gender, all children of all cultures and religions, all children with disabilities, all children of any color or ethnicity, and all children from indigenous tribes or cultures. I know inclusive approaches to education will also be on the agenda at the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which President Bush will attend, in January 2004.

"My country has been multicultural since its founding. We know that each culture is valuable, each language an important addition to intellectual growth. There is a growing resolve in American education to learn even more about other cultures and languages. Americans are committed to respect all cultures, as long as they share the same respect and tolerance.

"Education is the common denominator of all people, the road to emancipation and liberty, the way we find our humanity and discover our soul. There is no mission more important than providing an inclusive, quality education to all people; no endeavor more crucial. Thomas Jefferson, one of our Founding Fathers who himself was also a great educator, starting a university in his home state of Virginia, wrote that "If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it." Extending the educational franchise is our best hope for a safer, more progressive, tolerant, and equitable world.

"This educational mission unites us. UNESCO is a powerful forum for sharing our views, developing a common strategy, and implementing joint action. I look forward to working with each UNESCO member. Again, thank you for your most gracious welcome."

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