Secretary Paige's Remarks to The National Assessment of Educational Progress' Press Conference on Geography
June 21, 2002

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige today addressed a press conference to release the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress' latest report - the "nation's report card" on geography. Following are his prepared remarks.

Throughout our history, Americans have understood the importance of studying geography. James Madison wrote, "No studies seem so well calculated to give a proper expansion to the mind as Geography and History."

Geography not only helps students explore the world's people and civilizations across time, it also helps them understand the complexities of the world we live in today.

This is not the same planet our parents knew or their parents. Way back when Custer was defeated at Little Big Horn, it took nearly two weeks for the news to make the papers. If that happened today, people from Montana to Mozambique would be watching it live on TV, just as we did on Sept. 11.

In the world today, you can have breakfast in Paris, a teleconference lunch with executives in Beijing, and still make it back home in time for the curtain to rise at the Kennedy Center.

It's a world of 24-hour-news cycles, global markets, high-speed Internet and big challenges for all who inhabit it. And in order for our children to be prepared to take their place in that world and rise to those challenges, they must first understand it.

I am pleased to hear that this report shows improved achievement among fourth- and eighth-graders. Daniel will speak more to the details in a moment.

Especially good news is the fact that the achievement gap narrowed significantly between African American fourth graders and their white peers. I believe these numbers confirm what the president and I have been saying all along: Every child can learn - regardless of race, income or zip code. Every minority child can achieve. And these scores show they are learning - and they are achieving. And I commend those geography teachers responsible for helping these children progress.

But the results also show us that, clearly, there is much more work to do.

For example, when given a map of the United States, 16 percent of eighth graders could not locate the Mississippi River, and one-third of fourth graders could not identify the state where they lived. The state where they live. Only a quarter of high school seniors showed proficiency in geography. Overall achievement for 12th graders has not changed since 1994. This is the fourth straight NAEP report that shows scores for high school seniors have remained flat.

This is unacceptable.

We have more work to do and we have the tool to do it - the sweeping new education reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Our nation has been called to commit itself to a bold goal - creating a system that insists on accountability and results, teacher quality, local control and reading programs that work. A system where taxpayers know what they're getting for their money - and parents know if their children are learning - be it reading, math, science, history or geography.

It is a new day in education in America. And we are working with our schools implement these new reforms so every child is educated and no child is left behind.

When we all as nation pay attention and focus on accountability and results, our schools will improve. These NAEP scores will rise. And all of America's children - all of them -- can look forward to a brighter, more hopeful future.

Thank you.