Patrick Butler's Speech at NETA Conference 2011

Remarks as prepared for delivery on
Wednesday, October 19, 2011.

I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but I have come from Washington to Kansas City to tell you that the future of public broadcasting is in your hands.

Having spent the last 10½ months getting well acquainted with this industry and its issues, its champions and its critics, it has become quite clear to me that the education mission that lies at the heart of your work will be the salvation of this system.

An industry that began life as “educational television” is being summoned by extraordinary circumstances to return to its roots, reaffirm its first principles, and help lead America to new heights of academic and economic achievement.

Many of you have devoted your entire careers to this good work, and the time is at hand to reap the rich harvest you have so diligently and skillfully sown.

We have a great opportunity to help change, profoundly, the way teaching and learning are done in America.

We have it within our power to engage students as never before, to enlighten them as never before, to help them excel as never before.

And we have an historic chance to do it everywhere, with everyone, every day.

We are, all of a sudden, as well positioned as Pittsburg, which stands at the confluence of three might rivers.

Public television - - educational television - - stands today at the confluence of three extraordinary developments that, taken together can have a transformational effect on our industry and our country.

The first of these is the adoption of common core educational standards by 44 of the 50 states.

These standards represent a revolution in American education. Thanks to the leadership of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, almost all the states have embraced the same fundamental, demanding standards for students achievement, in math and English language arts, which encompass not only reading and writing but their application in the study of history, social studies, science and technical subjects.

You will immediately recognize many of these academic disciplines as the stock-in-trade of public television programming, and as the focus of your own work in the classroom over the past 40 years.

With exquisite timing, PBS and WGBH have launched PBS Learning Media at the start of this school year, creating 14,000 digital learning objects from 4 decades of public television programming, and launching a 21st century digital library that will bring these treasures - - for free - - into thousands of American classrooms serving millions of American students.

These priceless resources are geared to the common core standards, and from now on, everything we do in public television will be put through this filter to produce educational products and services of extraordinary depth, breadth and quality.

This exciting new initiative is designed to complement and expand the work so many of you have been doing for so long: the Virtual High Schools in Alabama, Las Vegas and Virginia; the Pioneering G.E.D. program in Kentucky; the Thinkport Online Learning Platform in Maryland; the Celebration of Teaching and Learning in New York; CPB’s American Graduate Program; and so much more.

And just as common core standards have gained national acceptance, and public television at both the national and local level has proven itself a dynamic and resourceful partner in the classroom, a third strong current is coursing through our education system with the promise of profound results.

It is the commitment of some of America’s largest companies and philanthropies, and its wealthiest individuals, to underwrite thorough going classroom reform with stunning financial investments.

Their collective resources are counted not in millions, or even billions, but trillions of dollars.

And some of them will want to make sizable investments in you.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $100 million to improve K-12 education in Tampa, Florida alone.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has committed $100 million to improve K-12 education in Newark, New Jersey alone.

What might they, and other modern-day Medici, invest in a system with the capability of reaching every child, everywhere, every day with the highest-quality educational products and services, for free?

We are going to find out.

What might the great corporations of America, desperate for a well-educated and well-trained workforce, invest in a system that can bring science, technology, engineering and math alive as no one else can?

We are going to find out.

What might the Nation’s governors, for all of whom education is job one, invest in public television stations that can prove their value in the classroom and produce higher levels of student achievement?

We are going to find out.

I am meeting on Friday with Dan Crippen, the executive director of the National Governors Association, to continue a discussion we began several weeks ago about a new partnership, in education, between the governors and public television.

Dan and I served together on the staff of the senate majority leader Howard Baker a quarter-century ago, and we’ve been good friends ever since.

He gets what we do. He likes what we do. And he will help us engage the Nation’s governors in our work as never before.

I met last week with Jeb Bush, the former Governor of Florida and a pioneer in education reform.

He gets what we do. He likes what we do. And he’s going to help us help the students of America in unprecedented ways.

So is the newest member of the Board of the Association of Public Television Stations, former Governor, former Senator, former President of the New School University in New York, and now CEO of the Global Scholar Educational Technology Company, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

Melinda Gates spoke at Jeb Bush’s Educational Summit last week about the liberating and energizing power of the common core standards to unleash all kids of innovation in education.

I spoke with her after her speech about what you are doing in this field, and she is fascinated.

The “blended model” of great teaching and great technology is her vision of the future, and it is ours as well.

We’ve been telling our education story to the Obama Administration this year, and they like what they hear.

We’re working on a partnership with the White House and the Department of Education across a range of educational initiatives, from learning objects to assessment tools, to achieve large goals we share in common.

With their help, we were able to save all $27.3 million for Ready To Learn in the current budget cycle.

We’ve been working with Senator Tom Harkin and other members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and I am pleased to report that the committee has proposed to reauthorize Ready To Learn as part of this comprehensive legislation.

Thanks to the fine work of the APTS’s own Director of Government Relations Will Glasscock, Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky is introducing legislation to authorize an even broader “Ready To Compete” program that Will can describe for you in greater detail later in this conference.

We’re making some very encouraging progress in some very important offices on the Republican side of the aisle, as well, thanks again to what you are doing.

Congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is a huge fan of Kentucky Educational Television, and we could not hope for a better friend in high places than Hal Rogers.

Congressman Denny Rehberg of Montana, Chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee with direct control of our federal funding, told me just a few weeks ago that when our work in the classroom is better known on the Hill, he thinks even the Tea Party will want to support it.

We’re not giving up on anybody.

Your APTS staff in Washington is working very hard to ensure continued funding for Ready To Learn and other education initiatives – not just because it’s our job but because we believe in your mission – and we believe in you.

We love telling the stories of your success to our friends on Capitol Hill and at the White House, in the state capitals, in the media, and in the philanthropic and business communities.

Even the most hardened of hearts can be pierced by these stories of your service to America’s children.

And the better they understand what public television really does for our communities, the broader and stronger our political support will be.

Help us tell your stories. Help one another bring success in education everywhere in our Country.

Keep up your very good work, and you will not only save public broadcasting in America, but help save America itself.

No pressure. Thank you very much.