Monday, September 7, 2009

Frist, Riley in Joint Support for Obama's Nationwide Speech to Students

Bipartisan statement "encourage[s] everyone to have their students watch and discuss the speech."

Posted By on Mon, Sep 7, 2009 at 8:36 PM

Bill Frist
  • Bill Frist
Former U.S. Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and former Secretary of Education Richard Riley issued a joint statement of support Monday for President Obama’s scheduled Tuesday address to the nation’s students, saying “we are supportive of the president of the United States — whether it is a Democrat or Republican — speaking directly to our nation's students to emphasize the core American values of education, hard work, and personal responsibility.”

Frist served as Majority Leader during the Bush administration. Riley headed the Education Department under former President Clinton. Their combining forces for a bi-partisan statement of support for Obama’s speech comes at a time when various conservatives, some of them congressional, have expressed disagreement with the Democratic president’s being allowed to speak to what the critics regard as a captive audience.

Frist and Riley take note of the controversy and stress the voluntary aspects of participation. “Although the decision of whether to watch the speech is appropriately left up to individual educators and parents, we encourage everyone to have their students watch and discuss the speech — and find every other possible way they can to underscore the value of education to our children.” They go on to note that the speech concerns “the key role hard work plays in being successful in school and in life,” and say, “President Obama, both because of his office as president but also because of his compelling personal story, is well-positioned to deliver this message and serve as a role model to students across our nation….”

“As individuals who have held leadership roles in both political parties, we encourage all Americans to support every effort to encourage children and parents to take ownership of their future. We are excited that President Obama is delivering this message across our nation today, and we hope every president will continue to do so in the future.”

The complete Frist-Riley statement is as follows:

As our nation's students and teachers return to school in uncertain economic times, Americans across party lines agree that a quality education is indispensable to the future of each child, our competitiveness, and our country.

Fully 30 percent of our nation’s students drop out of high school each year and most high school graduates don't complete college. While America was first in the world in high school and college graduation rates 30 years ago, we have slipped back into the middle of the pack among industrialized countries. Our results have stagnated while other nations are racing ahead of us.

As a former U.S. secretary of education and a former majority leader of the U.S. Senate who is now dedicating a substantial portion of time to education reform in Tennessee, we believe America can and must do better. While government has a crucial role to play to ensure quality schools, government can't do it alone. The evidence and our common sense make it clear: a good education also depends on hard work and personal responsibility for learning and achievement from individual students, parents, grandparents, and educators.

That's why we are supportive of the president of the United States — whether it is a Democrat or Republican — speaking directly to our nation's students to emphasize the core American values of education, hard work, and personal responsibility. We are pleased that presidents Reagan and Bush (Sr.) delivered similar speeches when they were serving in the White House in 1986 and 1991 respectively, and that is why we have both delivered similar speeches in many local schools throughout our careers.

Tuesday at noon, President Obama will address the nation’s students on the importance of personal responsibility, hard work, staying in school and getting a good education. Schools and classrooms all across America can tune in to the speech on the web or on television. Although the decision of whether to watch the speech is appropriately left up to individual educators and parents, we encourage everyone to have their students watch and discuss the speech — and find every other possible way they can to underscore the value of education to our children. If parents are concerned about the content of the speech, they can read the speech first (already available on the White House website) and then decide whether or not they want their child to listen to it.

One of the most important steps in turning around our nation’s education system is ensuring all of our children understand the value of education and the key role hard work plays in being successful in school and in life. The more people we have echoing this message, the better off our nation will be. President Obama, both because of his office as president but also because of his compelling personal story, is well-positioned to deliver this message and serve as a role model to students across our nation.

As individuals who have held leadership roles in both political parties, we encourage all Americans to support every effort to encourage children and parents to take ownership of their future. We are excited that President Obama is delivering this message across our nation today, and we hope every president will continue to do so in the future.

Frist has recently devoted much energy to an organization he co-founded called State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

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