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CNN Today

Riley: Federal Government Has 'Very Important Role to Support the States and the Local Schools' in Improving Education

Aired January 12, 2000 - 2:03 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Education is primarily a state responsibility, but the federal government views reports like this seriously because the overall quality of education in America is of key national interest.

With us from Washington to share his perspective on this fairly lackluster report from "Education Week" is Education Secretary Richard Riley.

Hello, Mr. Secretary.

RICHARD RILEY, EDUCATION SECRETARY: How are you?

PHILLIPS: Very good. Let's start off first: What are the criteria used to grade schools? Let's begin there.

RILEY: Well, first of all, I think this report is very helpful in bringing the awareness to look at this issue of teacher quality. If you're going to grade schools, you, first of all, have to have standards. Every state has standards, now, of what a child should know and be able to do in certain grades. But then teachers have to be prepared to teach to those high standards and teach with technology, and teach to a diverse student body. And if you don't have that, you cannot get those standards into the classroom. And that's what this "Ed Week" study looked at, and it's very helpful. It's disappointing, but it doesn't surprise me. We've been talking about it for years.

PHILLIPS: OK, well, it says that states are not doing enough to track, screen and retain qualified teachers. So whose fault is it? Because, by law, the states have to make the changes, but they need the funding from the federal government.

RILEY: Well, you need funding from a lot of sources: state and local and, we think, federal. We think the federal role is very important. It's a supportive role; we're partners, but we're junior partners. The actual responsibility is in the state, according to government law in this country. But the federal government does have a role in this very important education era for this great country. Every child's education should be important to us. We think the federal government has a very important role to support the states and the local schools. PHILLIPS: Now, not one state received an "A" on efforts to improve the quality of teachers. As secretary of education, doesn't this scare you?

RILEY: Well, it disturbs me, but it doesn't surprise me, if you understand. We've known that and we've been talking about it. We have wonderful quality of teachers in great many -- most cases, but some 10-12 percent of them are not certified, and that's where the big problem is. But you have states like Connecticut and North Carolina and my state of South Carolina, Oklahoma, that had very good grades in what they're doing to bring quality of teachers up and have all teachers certified and teaching in field.

PHILLIPS: OK, you talk about certification: Yes, that's very important, but what about pay? We have athletes making billions of dollars and teachers making 30 grand. Where's the incentive and what can you do?

RILEY: Well, you're very correct in that. Two very important parts of quality teaching, in keeping teachers in the field: One is pay. That's very important and it's generally low. The other is working conditions, the condition of the building, the technology, the teacher preparation, the teacher professional development, curriculum. All of those things come together -- discipline. If both of those are there, then you then have things coming in place where teachers stay in the classroom and teach in a quality way. But teachers' pay is very important part of it. Teachers are professionals, but they're not considered first-class professionals when it comes to pay.

PHILLIPS: Well, they should be with all the education they go through. We're only as good as our teachers; isn't that correct?

RILEY: That's absolutely right. Education is only effective as the effective teacher, and we should be grateful for our teachers who are out there doing a wonderful job and supply whatever's needed to get enough teachers in there to complete the job, and we've got to do that over the next few years.

PHILLIPS: And we'll be looking for you to do that.

Richard Riley, secretary of education, thanks for being with us.

RILEY: Thank you.

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