CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former First Lady Laura Bush championed the need for education reform at a stop in Charleston Wednesday night, plugging the accountability initiatives she and her husband, former President George W. Bush, have spearheaded almost three years since leaving the White House.
"George and I believe that every child in the United States deserves a quality education," Bush told a packed audience at the Clay Center. "Accountability is absolutely critical for education reform. Schools must have higher expectations for the performance of all students and school leaders."
In about a 20-minute keynote speech at the Education Alliance's annual fundraising dinner, Bush said her time as First Lady and as a public school teacher in Houston clued her into the importance of quality education.
"We know that students who are behind in reading, writing and math in middle school are more likely to drop out," said Bush. "This dropout crisis affects all Americans since dropouts are less likely to be employed, to vote, and to be productive citizens. All of us suffer when students don't finish school. And all of us have the obligation to help."
Since leaving the White House, Laura and George W. Bush have pursued education reform through the Bush Institute, an advocacy arm of the George W. Bush Presidential Center to promote policy issues close to the 43rd president's heart. Those reforms build on his signature 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which aimed to improve school accountability and set measurable goals for individual student achievement.
"We need great teachers supported by outstanding school leadership because right now nationwide, more than 1.3 million students drop out of high school every year," said Bush. "That's an average of 7,000 young people every day."
Bush's emphasis on drop-out prevention dovetails with the goals of the Education Alliance, a statewide nonprofit research fund that pairs businesses and schools to help students graduate from high school and be ready for college.
Patricia Kusimo, president of the Education Alliance, said one in four West Virginia students will not finish high school in four years, which is why the Education Alliance has developed mentorship programs to keep kids in school.
Gov.-elect Early Ray Tomblin also stressed the urgency of improving West Virginia's education system, citing a Georgetown University report that predicted the state needed 20,000 additional college graduates by 2018 to have a functioning workforce.
"Thanks to groups like the Education Alliance, we are on the path to meeting those demands," said Tomblin.
During her speech, Bush detailed several measures the Bush Institute has piloted to improve principal effectiveness, like the Alliance to Reform Educational Leadership.
"A well-trained, energetic teacher can be stifled under lackluster and discouraging administrators," said Bush.
The program is currently training more than 500 principals in 17 different locations across the country, said Bush.
The Institute is also focusing on strategies to keep middle school students productive and in school.
Laura Bush serves as the UN Ambassador for the Decade of Literacy and hosted leaders from around the world for the White House Conference on Advancing Global Literacy in 2006. Since 2001, Bush has visited West Virginia for campaign fundraisers and political events.
Wednesday's fundraiser was The Education Alliance's largest of the year, with over 400 guests purchasing event tickets that began at $150 a seat.
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