Few members of President Clinton's cabinet have been as successful and as widely praised in the first year of the Clinton presidency as the soft-spoken but accomplished Secretary of Education, Richard Wilson Riley. For those who follow education and politics, the success is not surprising. Riley's nomination in December of 1992 received unequivocal support and he was unanimously confirmed a month later immediately following the President's inauguration.
As Governor of South Carolina, Riley spearheaded a comprehensive and highly successful reform of that state's school system, an endeavor that most informed observers at the time considered to be an impossible task, but which Riley accomplished by bringing together a coalition of groups, including business people, educators, and parents. The Business Roundtable called him, "a star and a pioneer in reform." As a result of his coalition-building, South Carolina's students made leaps of progress - enrollment in Advanced Placement courses increased by more than 250 percent, twice the national average, and more than 500 percent for African Americans. Enrollment in more challenging chemistry and foreign language courses increased significantly, and SAT and similar test scores rose substantially.
As a fellow Governor who had long expressed concern about education, President Clinton chose Secretary Riley to head the U.S. Department of Education to help work the same kind of education reform on a national scale that he did in South Carolina. Syndicated columnist David Broder recently wrote that "probably the best thing the president has done for education is to pick his old friend, former South Carolina governor Richard Riley, as the secretary of education." Broder also called Riley one of the "most decent and honorable people in public life."
Since taking office, Secretary Riley has helped the Administration introduce a wealth of education legislation that has served to refocus the nation's attention in this area of growing importance, as well as forcing it to thing in new and creative ways about education and our children's future. Riley realizes our young people have great aspirations and expectations, and that polls show that the nation's students have high hopes for their future. As a result, his message is founded on a push for high educational standards for every child, for greater parental involvement, and for promoting means of preparing our children for a challenging future in the new information age that is already upon us.
Riley was born in Greenville County, South Carolina on January 2, 1933. He received a bachelor's degree cum laude in political science from Furman University in 1954. He served for two years as an officer on a minesweeper in the United States Navy. In 1959, Riley received a law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law. He served as legal counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate. He also served as a South Carolina state representative and state senator, from 1963 to 1977.
Riley was elected governor in 1978, and reelected in 1982, after the people of South Carolina voted to amend the state constitution to enable Riley to be the first person in modern South Carolina history to run for a second term.
Riley is married to the former Ann Osteen Yarborough. They have four children.