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Published:March 23rd, 2007 10:15 EST

Secretary Spellings at Teaching and Learning Conference

By SOP newswire

Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings delivered remarks at the annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference in New York, where she discussed the important role of teachers in fostering strong science and technology education and how No Child Left Behind can help teachers customize instruction and raise student achievement. Following are her remarks at the conference, attended by teachers, administrators, school board members, students, parents and others from the world of business and policy.

Thank you. I'm honored to be here today. Spending time with teachers and kids is my favorite part of my job. Everywhere I go, I'm lucky enough to visit classrooms and see the tremendous work you do every day. I helped solve a hit-and-run crime in a forensic science class in Birmingham. I met a sloth named Moe at the Zoo Academy in Cincinnati. I even helped dissect cow eyes last month in Tampa!

It's no secret that teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world and one of the most important. I'm sure every person in this room can think back to at least one teacher who helped you become who you are today. Mine was Miss Brown, and I'm still grateful to her, just as I'm grateful to the teachers who touch my daughters' lives every day.

I would also like to thank Paula and everyone at Channels 13 and 21 for hosting one of the largest teacher development conferences in the world right here in New York City. Like many of you, I grew up with PBS programming, and I raised my children on shows like Mister Rogers and Sesame Street.

I'm proud that we at the Department of Education support children's programming for public television. I believe PBS is one of America's great national treasures and that much like public education, public television is an important part of the democratic, civic, and economic foundation of our country.

PBS has a knack for making learning fun and interesting and high in content. In today's world, that's essential. All of us know our children aren't growing up in the same world we grew up in. They're taking advantage of our iPod-loving, Tivo-watching, ever-flattening world in ways we could never have imagined. For example, within the last 24 hours, more than half of young adults in our country sent or received a text message. Three out of 4 teens between the ages of 15 and 17 own cell phones. And almost 8 out of 10 teens say they've helped an adult do something online that the adults could not do themselves. My own kids would certainly be among the 8.

All of us know that technology offers tremendous opportunities for education. A recent study showed that it would take 12 stacks of books, each extending more than 93 million miles from the Earth to the sun, to equal the amount of digital information created or copied last year alone.

Harnessing the power of innovation for the good of our schools is not just a novel enterprise. Our country's health and prosperity depend on our education system's ability to adapt and grow with our knowledge economy.

As technology transforms the way we live, work, and play, schools and educators must become flexible and agile enough to meet students changing needs. And that means tailoring instruction and using time in more innovative ways—so that every child gets the extra help they need when they need it and the rigorous coursework they need and deserve.

In the past, our schools lacked data to show who was doing well and who was falling behind, and where. It was only just a few years ago—with the passage of the landmark education law, No Child Left Behind, that our nation committed to have every single child learning on grade level by 2014. As a parent, I don't think that's too much to ask, and I know you feel the same.

Thanks to this law, we're now able to fine tune the system to make sure that every child is learning—regardless of race, income level, background, or ZIP code. And it's working: reading scores for our 9-year-olds increased more in 5 years than in the previous 28 combined.

African-American and Hispanic students are reaching all-time highs in reading and math. Achievement gaps between poor and minority students and their peers are finally beginning to close.

Thanks to No Child Left Behind, we are now armed with information that can improve and personalize instruction. For the first time ever, teachers can measure student progress from year to year and note which strategies work best. Next year, in addition to reading and math, we're adding science assessments to give you data to help more students become innovators, entrepreneurs, and scientists.

Now that we have this wealth of information, the next step is to use it to customize education. We've built an appetite for change and improvement, and we've done a good job of framing the problem. We know where we're falling short, where students' needs aren't being met, and where more rigor is needed. With the help of technology, we must now begin to answer those needs.

If there's one thing I've learned in my travels around our country, it's that education is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. Just as every child has unique needs, so does every teacher, every school, every district, and every state.

Thanks to modern technology, we already customize every other aspect of our lives. Our computers are built to order, our eyeglasses are ready in an hour and every time I go online to buy a book, a window pops up that shows me 5 others I might like.

Industries from medicine to commerce, from finance to entertainment, have leveraged technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness, as well as customer service, satisfaction, and quality of life. And while we've made real progress in wiring our classrooms and equipping them with computers and other technologies we have yet to see the same transformation in education.

To help realize technology's promise in the classroom, I'm convening a series of conversations that will bring together some of the leading minds in education and innovation starting today, following this conference here in New York City. Later this afternoon, I'll be meeting with business leaders, technologists, teachers, principals, and administrators, including New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, Stan Litow of the IBM Foundation, and John Lawson of the Association of Public Television Stations.

I hope these events will kick off a national discussion on how technology can help you and your students achieve your best. And if you have any questions or concerns you'd like me to share, please let me know. We need technology that meets your needs in a user-friendly, accessible way without putting more burdens on you. My goal is to find ways that technology will make your job easier, not more difficult.

While we know that different children have different needs... our country's success depends on equipping all our children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed—something we've never really done before.

To reach this goal, we must arm teachers with the best practices to get the job done. We would never ask a doctor to learn surgery on the operating table. And you shouldn't have to reinvent your own research labs every time you walk into a classroom either. As teachers, you're people of good faith and good will. You hold the future of our country in your hands, and you deserve the best support available.

That's why last year I formed a National Math Panel to identify the best research on teaching math, just as we've done for reading. I look forward to sharing their insights with educators early next year.

Nothing helps a child learn as much as a great teacher. Unfortunately, today, we're most likely to find the most experienced and qualified teachers in our least challenging educational settings. But in high-poverty middle and high schools, only half of math teachers majored or minored in the field they're teaching. 99.9% of this problem is not your fault. If you're a certified English teacher, it's not right or fair to you or your students to ask you to teach biology.

To help attract the most effective teachers to our neediest classrooms, the President's budget includes nearly $200 million for a Teacher Incentive Fund. These resources will encourage great teachers to work in high-poverty schools, and reward them for results—an approach that's been shown to help students and schools improve.

In addition, my department will continue to support teachers with significant resources, including dozens of free Teacher to Teacher Workshops; and thousands of free lesson plans, primary documents, and animations online at our website, We've also requested more than 4 billion dollars in teacher-related funding this year. And as we renew No Child Left Behind this year, I'll work to make the law more flexible and to give you more credit for the progress students make in your classrooms.

All of these tools and resources aim to support and leverage the creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication you bring to your classrooms every day. Because after all, if we want to our students to become innovators, we must be innovators ourselves.

In the last 50 years, American ingenuity has put a man on the moon, a rover on Mars, and computers in our businesses, our homes, and even our pockets. We launched the World Wide Web, mapped the human genome, and developed life-extending drugs and treatment for AIDS.

Having every child on grade level by 2014 is another great goal, and it's one we can accomplish. With the right support for teachers, including new technologies, we will close the achievement gap and reach our goal of No Child Left Behind.

Thank you. I'd be happy to take your questions.


Contact: Katherine McLane
Rebecca Neale
(202) 401-1576