The president’s speech to students

Now that President Obama’s speech to the nation’s school children is over, we can move on to other issues.

Let’s move on to President Bush’s (the elder) speech to the kids in 1991. Specifically, this part:

Progress starts when we ask more of ourselves, our schools and, yes, you, our students. We made a start nationally now by setting six National Education Goals to meet the challenges of the 21st century. By the year 2000, at least 9 in every 10 students should graduate from high school. We should be first in the world in math and science. We need to regularly test student’s abilities. Every American child should start school ready to learn; every American adult should be literate; and every American school should be safe and drug-free. Reaching those goals is the aim of a strategy that we call America 2000, a crusade for excellence in American education, school by school, community by community.

But what does all this mean, you might say, what is he doing, what does this all mean for the students right here in this room? Fast-forward — 5 years from now. Unless things change, between now and 1996 as many as one in four of today’s eighth graders will not graduate with their class. In some cities, the dropout rate is twice that high or higher. Imagine: Out of a total of nearly 3 million of your fellow classmates nationwide, an army of more than half a million dropouts.

I ask every student watching today: Look around you. Count four students. Start with yourself. No one dreams of becoming a dropout, but far too many do. Which one of you won’t make it through school?

After we’re done getting worked up on both sides of the “should school kids hear a talk by a president,” maybe we can devote a little ire to the fact the nation failed — and failed miserably — at changing President Bush’s projection.

In fact, the dropout rate is much worse than the president could have imagined. In 16 of the 50 largest cities, only about half of the students graduate.

Minneapolis ranked 40th in the survey, according to the Cities in Crisis 2009 report, with a graduation rate of 45.3 percent in 2005. In the entire metropolitan Twin Cities area, 75.3% of the kids graduated. The area ranks 30th in closing the gap between kids in suburban vs. urban schools.

The last time a president spoke to the nation’s schoolchildren, it’s clear that a lot of them weren’t listening. Do you expect more this time?

  • kennedy

    Looking at the demographics, I expect President Obama’s race will garner him more attention from those that have tended to be less successful in school. Whether that attention translates into action depends on the audience.

  • Michele

    Excellent post!

    The graduation rate in Minneapolis (45.3%) is scary, but I’m not comforted by the 75.3% graduation rate in the suburbs. When a college degree is a basic requirement in an increasingly competitive worldwide job market how do parents and society expect children to succeed?

    The funny thing is that last year the state legislature decided to support passing students from one grade to the next regardless of merit. Similarly, the legislature has repeatedly capitulated to state fair and resort interests by continuing to require schools to start after Labor Day. (There is a clause to allow early starts if the school needs to end school early the following spring to accommodate construction plans.)

    People are always talking about the declining quality of public education in Minnesota, but nobody seems to have the courage to actually DO something about it.