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U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings Delivers Remarks at the Council of the Americas Conference in Washington, D.C.


Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings delivered remarks on the role of education in social and economic development to an audience of regional leaders, education ministers and CEOs at the Council of the Americas Conference in Washington, D.C. Her remarks were followed by a question and answer session.

Following are the Secretary’s remarks as prepared:

Thank you Susan for introducing me. I’d also like to thank William Rhodes of Council of the Americas and the Americas Society for welcoming me. You and your organizations have done excellent work to increase opportunity and prosperity throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Just last Saturday, I saw an example of how education can unite our region when I spoke at Miami Dade College in Florida. Miami Dade enrolls students from 150 different nations, including many from Cuba, Venezuela, Chile, and other parts of Latin America. It is the largest and most diverse college in the United States—Como las naciones unidas!

Miami-Dade’s President, my friend Dr. Eduardo Padrón, came to the U.S. from Cuba at age 15 speaking very little English. Since then, he has not only learned the language, but went on to earn a PhD in economics. Now, he is helping tens of thousands of students to follow in his footsteps—including many who are the first in their families to go to college.

Especially in our knowledge economy, I believe that the nations of the Western Hemisphere must also follow this example. By working together and learning from each other, we can prepare our students and our region to succeed in our globalized world. We share a common history, common values, and common hope for a future of freedom and prosperity. And after working with President Bush for fifteen years, I know he places great value on strengthening those natural ties. He has made 11 trips to Latin America since he took office, and he has doubled foreign assistance in the hemisphere.

Last summer, I also traveled to South America, bringing a historic delegation of university presidents with me to Chile and Brazil. Our goal was to encourage more international students to study in the United States and urge more U.S. students to study abroad. I’m a firm believer in the value of these experiences—so much so that I recently sent my daughter Mary to study in Latin America. Her first triumph was buying a mobile phone using Spanish.

Computers, commerce, and media link us together, but there is still no replacement for actually being there—living someplace new, making new friends, and learning new rhythms of life. Exchanging students and faculty means that campuses are enriched with new scholarship, perspectives, and innovative approaches to learning. Most importantly, the more our governments, business leaders, higher education leaders, and students partner together... the better prepared we all will be to meet the challenges of our changing world.

Here in the U.S., we are demanding more from our education system through our landmark law, No Child Left Behind. The basic premise is that we need every student to succeed. Where not long ago we focused primarily on inputs, we now emphasize results above all else—just as you do in the private sector.

In education, that means taking research-based approaches to instruction, holding schools accountable, measuring student progress and reporting the results, and emphasizing effective teaching.

Other nations in our region are making similar moves towards more accountable school systems. Nations like Mexico, Colombia, and Chile in particular are receiving high marks for the quality of their assessment systems. Countries like Brazil are establishing measurable standards. Proposals in Chile could make it easier for policy makers to make changes at underperforming schools.

To help us the nations of the Western Hemisphere partner together and learn from one another, the United States has supports a number of education programs in our region, including a successful program in Guatemala that has raised the percentage of students graduating from first grade from 51 to 71 percent; a program in Peru that helps rural schools and local governments improve school management and learning, and has doubled the number of students achieving proficiency in basic skills from 30% to 60%; and Centers in Excellence in Teaching Training, which aim to serve 20,000 teachers and reach 650,000 students across Latin America and the Caribbean by 2009.

In addition, last year, President Bush announced a new partnership that will provide $75 million to help Latin American youth study in the U.S. and learn English. Part of that funding has gone toward a Community College Initiative, piloted in Brazil, to bring students to U.S. community colleges to study fields critical to their nations’ economic development and competitiveness. Finally, my Department also works with counterparts in Mexico and Canada to foster student and faculty exchanges, and to help teachers take advantage of opportunities for research and seminars abroad.

Still, there are a number of areas where we can work together more effectively, such as foreign language learning, and helping more people access and afford higher education. Business leaders like many of you can offer valuable insights into this process.

All of us know that advancing peace, prosperity, freedom, and social justice begins in the classroom. Education is the great source of hope, for individuals, for our nations, and our region. I look forward to working with you to make our countries more hopeful, more imaginative, and more prosperous places to live.

Thank you. I’m happy to take your questions.


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