"Thank you Senator Ensign, and thank you for being a great friend to America's students. You're a great advocate for our country's competitiveness, and I'm so glad you serve on the Senate HELP committee. I love your intellect and commitment on issues so vital to our students and our country—like pensions, health care, and of course, education. So it's great to be here with you to open a school that is such a great example of excellence and where the sky's the limit.
Once upon a time, back when I was in grade school, I was considered advanced in some subjects, too. But I have to say it's very humbling to be among so many talented students.
Not only are they in the 99.9th percentile of achievement, they're opera singers—like my fellow Texan Annalisee Brasil—and novelists and football players and chess masters; and in their spare time, they've managed to leap years ahead of most students their age. And that's only the beginning.
In just a few years, these students will be pioneering new fields like nanotechnology and supercomputing. They'll be using their language skills to bring countries and cultures closer together. They'll be developing new, renewable sources of energy.
Misha Raffiee, who spoke earlier, is 11 years old, and she already speaks 5 languages—English, French, Spanish, Latin, and Farsi. She wants to be a neurosurgeon when she grows up, or maybe find a cure for cancer. If his professional football career doesn't work out, 10-year-old Christopher Griffin says he would consider cracking codes for the government. I expect whatever field you choose, you'll go straight to the top.
I want to thank Governor Guinn for being here and especially for his long commitment to students as an educator and as a governor. We are grateful to you and congratulate you on all you have done for our young people. I'd also like to thank UNR President Milt Glick, Nevada's state legislators, and of course, Jan and Bob Davidson for supporting these outstanding and inspiring students. In today's world, it's more important than ever to give them the academic foundation they need to achieve their dreams.
Our country has always excelled at helping people soar. In the last 50 years, American ingenuity has launched the World Wide Web, mapped the human genome, and developed life-extending drugs and treatment for AIDS. We put a man on the moon, a rover on Mars, and computers in our businesses, our homes, and even our pockets. With each new innovation, leaders like Bill Gates of Microsoft or Craig Barrett of Intel create tens of thousands of jobs that fuel our economy and improve our quality of life.
Today, American technology from semiconductors to cell phones is connecting people around the world like never before. As a result, what you know means far more than where you live. The same job can and is being done from Bangalore just as easily as from Boston. To keep up with global competitors, we must ensure our children have the knowledge and skills they need to seize the opportunities of the global economy.
Fortunately, Davidson Academy is the kind of place where the only boundaries to what you achieve are the ones you set for yourself. If you're ready for college-level work in math, you can walk right across campus into a college-level math class. If you need extra help in science, your teacher will spend more time on that area.
By tailoring instruction to fit each student's needs, this school is setting an example for many others to follow. Thanks to modern technology, we already customize every other aspect of our lives—we have our computers built to order, our book recommendations adjusted for our preferences, our eyeglasses within an hour, not to mention our no-whip decaf lattes.
Thanks to the Davidsons, even our computer games adjust to get harder as we get "smarter"! So why shouldn't we do the same in education?
After all, every student deserves individual attention. And every student deserves to be challenged—whether you're rich or poor, black or white, whether you're a striving reader or whether you were reading Dickens at the age of 4.
If there's one thing I've learned in my travels around the country, it's that education is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. Different children have different needs. And as many of you students know well, it's no fun to be trapped in a school that's not meeting your needs.
Unfortunately, in the past, our schools lacked data to show who was doing well, and who was falling behind, and where. It was only just a few years ago—with the passage of the landmark education law, known as No Child Left Behind—that our nation committed to have every single child learning on grade level by 2014. As a parent, I don't think that's too much to ask.
Thanks to this law, we're now able to fine-tune the system to make sure that every child is learning—regardless of race, income-level, background, or ZIP code. And it's working!
Across the country, reading scores for 9-year-olds have increased more over the last 5 years than in the previous 3 decades combined.
Over the last 2 years, the number of fourth graders who learned fundamental math skills increased by 235,000 students—enough to fill 500 elementary schools!
In the younger grades, achievement gaps between African-American and Hispanic students and their peers are at all-time lows.
By setting the goal of having every child on grade level by a specified time, No Child Left Behind began a critical transformation in our schools. But the truth is, it's still not enough.
In today's world, grade-level learning is the minimum standard for success. To access many of the most promising and fastest-growing fields, students need more advanced skills and knowledge. Employers want workers with "pocket protector" skills—critical thinkers and problem solvers with strong math and science skills.
This year I've traveled to India, Egypt and Russia, and I can tell you there is a hunger for education in those places that is often lacking in American students. Students work harder and longer, and they don't make or accept excuses—and neither do their cultures. These are the kids our kids are going to be competing against—and if we don't challenge them now—then we aren't doing our job to prepare them for the future.
Today, 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs require postsecondary education. But a report released just last week showed almost 4 out of 5 high school graduates were unprepared for college-level work.
All over our country, parents, students, policymakers, and educators are demanding more rigorous coursework. A recent survey showed a vast majority of adults believe our schools aren't adequately preparing students to compete in the global economy.
And the students agree—3 out of 4 high school students said they don't feel challenged.
A Gates Foundation study showed the lack of challenging coursework is one of the top reasons students drop out of high school. Many left school because their classes were boring and not relevant to their lives—not because they weren't passing, and certainly not because they didn't have the ability to succeed. In fact, it's estimated that 1 out of every 5 dropouts could qualify as gifted.
By denying children access to rigorous classes, we waste their potential, and we deny them the opportunity to improve their lives as well as ours.
We must challenge our students and create a system that demands they step up to the plate—and to do so, we must challenge ourselves.
We know the solution: raised expectations, higher standards, and rigorous coursework for every student, not just a few. Taking just one AP class can increase a child's ability to succeed—but unfortunately, nearly half our high schools currently offer no AP classes at all.
That's an opportunity gap we can't afford to tolerate, and I know Senator Ensign agrees. I appreciate everything he's doing to promote Congressional action around these issues.
While we're increasing access to college-level courses for students in high school, we must also make sure that college itself is accessible—and affordable—for every qualified student. That's why last fall I created a Commission on the Future of Higher Education to promote a national dialogue on access, affordability, accountability, and quality. I hope you'll join in that discussion. After all, as consumers of the system, you have a huge stake in ensuring that our higher education system remains the finest in the world... and that you don't have to win the lottery to pay for it!
And students, when you graduate with the world at your feet, I hope you'll remember the tremendous support you were given and pay it forward—maybe even as teachers. After all, a big part of leadership is taking the time to look out for others—just as the people in this room have done for you—people like the Davidsons.
I encourage you to trust their belief in you and don't let anything or anyone narrow your dreams for the future. Even when you're not sure where you're heading, don't be afraid to take risks. Our country needs your energy and your ambition, so believe in yourself. Never give up. And may today be the beginning of a new journey and a great adventure. We'll be watching you!
©2006 Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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