- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

First lady Laura Bush yesterday praised America's teachers for being "soldiers of democracy" and said more must be done to recruit the "best and brightest" into the profession and provide them with better training and resources.
In her second official visit to Capitol Hill, Mrs. Bush received loud applause after briefing members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee about a White House conference she held last week on preparing tomorrow's teachers.
She said education specialists at the conference told her the nation's schools would need more than 2 million new teachers in the next decade. "We owe them our respect for the professionals they are. We owe them our support. And we owe them the training and tools to succeed," Mrs. Bush said.
President Bush has made education one of his top priorities. Early this year, he signed into law an education-overhaul measure requiring new testing and accountability in schools as well as quality teachers in all classrooms by 2005. It also directs more funds to the neediest schools and provides increased flexibility for districts to use federal education funds in key areas such as teacher training and recruitment.
On average, Mrs. Bush said, those enrolling in colleges of education have lower verbal and math scores than their peers in other fields of study and teachers with higher standardized test scores leave the profession at a much higher rate than those with lower scores.
Mrs. Bush said leaders should encourage programs like Teach for America, which recruits gifted and talented college students to teach in inner-city schools; the New Teacher Project, which helps midcareer professionals shift to teaching; and Troops to Teachers, which recruits retired military personnel to the classroom.
The Troops to Teachers program helped Army Sgt. Art Moore, who retired from the military after 21 years of service, become a special education teacher in a Baltimore school, Mrs. Bush said.
Funding for Troops to Teachers has increased from $3 million in 2001 to $18 million in 2002. The president has proposed increasing its budget to $20 million in 2003, Mrs. Bush said.
Overall, Congress last year appropriated $2.85 billion for fiscal 2002 to help states and local school districts train, recruit and retain quality teachers a 35 percent increase over fiscal 2001 levels.
Mrs. Bush also told members that teacher standards must be strengthened and education programs improved. She said some colleges do not keep abreast of scientific research on education, so many teachers enter their first classrooms ill-prepared.
"There is no excuse for this," she said. "We now know because science tells us what teaching methods are most effective."
Although Mrs. Bush's briefing was applauded by both sides, some Democrats on the panel were unhappy with funding levels.
"All these things cost money," said Rep. Dale E. Kildee of Michigan. "We are short. We need far more resources."
In her travels around the country since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mrs. Bush said, many people told her they were considering public service.
"I believe that teaching is the greatest public service of all," Mrs. Bush said. "[World War II] General Omar Bradley was right when he said, 'The teacher is the real soldier of democracy. Others can defend it, but only he can make it work.'"


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