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President Clinton Speaks to Students at Springbrook High School

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 16, 1998


Springbrook High School
Silver Spring, Maryland

1:15 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. Durso, thankyou for welcoming me here to Springbrook. Secretary Riley, thank youfor bringing me along. I want to introduce the Secretary ofEducation, Dick Riley; the Secretary of Energy, Federico Pena.(Applause.) I thank Governor Glendening and Senator Sarbanes, andCongressman Wynn, and the Maryland State Superintendent NancyGrasmick; your president of the school board, Nancy King, and all theother people from Maryland who have made us feel so welcome.

The Governor of West Virginia, Governor Underwood; andthe Mayor of Los Angeles, Mayor Riordan; and other people who were onour panel over there -- I'd like for all the people who came from allover America to be with us to stand up -- Rudy Crew, thesuperintendent of New York; many other leaders there. (Applause.)Thank you all very much.

Those people came from all over America today to yourschool to discuss one very important thing for your future -- how canwe improve the learning of American students in math and science onthe edge of a new century and a new millennium, where so much of thepublic welfare and so much of people's individual lives will bedetermined by whether they understand and can use and apply math andscience. And I think you ought to give them a hand for doing that.(Applause.)

Now, you may know all this, but I want to give you a fewfacts to try to demonstrate to you why whether you know anythingabout math and science, no matter what you do with your life, islikely to make a big difference. For example, in 1993, when I becamePresident, and all of you were in an earlier grade -- (laughter) --in 1993, now, just five years ago, there were only 50 -- 50 sites onthe web, on the World Wide Web -- 50, total. Today millions ofAmericans and millions of organizations have web pages, up from 50 in1993. The White House has one. Your school newspaper has one. Mycat has won -- (laughter) -- 1.5 million new pages are created everyday; 65,000 every hour.

Today every one of you is just a click of a mouse awayfrom some of the finest libraries in the world. And someday beforelong, you'll be able to reach every book, every symphony, everypainting ever created through the web.

I know that Bill Nye talked to you about science in waysthat were probably infinitely more entertaining than anything I couldsay, but I'd like to say a couple of serious things to you. Ourscientists are on the verge of making dramatic breakthroughs in thetreatment of cancer, spinal cord injury, other serious diseases. Wehave just had a rover on Mars. We're about to put an internationalspace station in the sky the size of three football fields for, ineffect, permanent human residence in space.

In the 1980s it took nine years for scientists toidentify the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. Last year, because ofimprovements in genetic research, it took nine days to identify thegene that causes Parkinson's Disease. We're on our way to developinggene chips that will help us prevent illnesses in people even beforethey happen. A lot of you young people here today, by the time youhave your first child and you bring your baby home from the hospital,you will actually be able to have a genetic map which will tell youwhat your child's genetic strengths are, and weaknesses, what thelikely problems your child could have are, what kind of diet yourchild should follow, what kind of regime you should follow toguarantee your child has the healthiest possible future.

Now, I guess what I'm trying to say is something youdoubtless already know, but science and technology and mathematicsare profoundly important to the way we live, but they will be evenmore important to the way you live, you work, you relate to otherpeople, you relate to people all the way around the world.

Now, I know here that preparing for that kind of futureis a priority. You have more computers, more students takingcomputer science than any other school in the county.Congratulations. I hope more students around the country will followyour lead. (Applause.) I hope more of you will go on to college.And you haven't thought of it, I hope you will decide to do it.

I have worked very hard to make sure that when we startthis new century, the first two years of college will be as universalas a high school education has been in the latter half of the 20thcentury. Why? Because we know from all of our census data thatyoung people who have at least two years of college education arelikely to get a good job with a growing income. Young people whodon't are likely not to get a good job with a growing income. And weknow that more and more people have to be able not just to knowfacts, but to understand how to use them, how to solve problems, howto think creatively.

That's why we've provided now a HOPE Scholarship, a$1,500 tax credit, a reduction to help pay for tuition for the firsttwo years of college; and tax credits for the junior year and senioryear in graduate school as well. This is important. (Applause.)We've also simplified the student loan program, made interest taxdeductible on student loans -- if you're families or you can savemoney in an IRA and withdraw it to pay for a college educationwithout having to pay any tax on it. We've increased the number ofPell Grants and the number of work-study slots, and provided for morepositions in AmeriCorps for people to earn money to go to college bydoing community service. All of this is designed not only to helpyou individually, but to make your country stronger, because we willneed higher levels of education among all our young people in the newcentury.

Every one of you -- and I wanted to be able to look atevery young person in America dead in the eye and say, I don't carewhat your family's income is, I don't care what your racial or ethnicbackground is, I don't care how many struggles you've had toovercome, you will be able to afford to go to college because we havecreated a system which makes it possible for you -- (applause).

Now, here's the problem that we face today. Here's whyall of these people came here. Not everybody in America has accessto the same level of science and math and technology opportunitiesyou do. And not everybody in America -- and I'll bet you not eveneverybody in this school who should be taking these courses -- istaking them. And that has given us a huge national headache.

Earlier this month we learned that in the ThirdInternational Math and Science test, which compares performance ofAmerican students with students around the world, that our seniorsranked near the bottom, ahead of only two other countries out of 21,in math and science performance. Now, by contrast, we ranked rightat the top in math and science performance at the 4th grade -- rightat the top. We ranked second in math and tied for second in science.By the 8th grade we drop to about the middle of the pack. By the 12grade we're ahead of only two other countries.

This country is still the science and mathematics andtechnology and research capital of the world. But how long can we goon doing that when we need this knowledge to be more widely sharedand we know that only a few people have it? That is the challenge.So I say to you, it's not just important for you to know more mathand science personally; it's important for your country and yourfuture that people like you all over this country know more as well.

So what are we going to do about it? Listen to this --half of all college-bound seniors in America -- forget about thepeople not going to college -- half of all the people that are goingto college have not taken physics or trigonometry. Three-quartershave not taken calculus. Students around the world have to takethese courses to get out of high school, in country after countryafter country.

So I say to you, whether you have to or not, you shouldtake trig, you should take calculus, and you should take physics. Nomatter what you do for the rest of your life, it will help you andyou should take them.

Now, let me also say that we have some things to do. Wehave to make sure that all of our teachers have the chance to beproperly trained. Let's face it -- you know, there are almost400,000 openings right now in America in computer science. Theaverage entry-level salary is $48,000 a year. That ought to get youinterested in taking them in college. (Laughter.) The averageteacher's salary in America for all teachers -- including those thathave been teaching 30 years -- the average salary is well below$48,000 a year, what a 22-year-old or a 23-year-old person can earncoming out of college with this kind of background.

So I want to say something else to you -- you've got agood teacher and you know your teacher is doing this. I've just toldyou that your teacher could leave, walk out tomorrow and go make$50,000 doing something else -- you ought to thank your teachers forbeing here and educating you and supporting you. (Applause.)

And I'll tell you what we're going to try to do. We aregoing to do our best to make sure that schools and school districtsand states have the resources to train teachers properly. We'regoing to challenge all the states to require that the teachers whoare teaching courses have real adequate academic preparation in thecourses they're teaching. I'm going to urge more and more states andschool districts to require you to take more math and science just toget out of high school in the first place.

But before all that happens -- well, you're seniors,it's too late -- I don't mean we're going to impose something on you.(Applause.) I don't mean you have to stay. But you think aboutthis. You think about this -- if you have a little brother or alittle sister in the 9th grade or the 8th grade or the 7th grade orthe 6th grade, wouldn't you like to know that when your brother orsister gets out of high school if they want to go to college, theycan? And wouldn't you like to know that everybody who gets out ofhigh school six years from now will be able to compete with everybodyelse in the world when they get out of high school six years fromnow? Isn't this something we owe each other, to make everysucceeding year better and better and better?

So I say this, even though -- if you're a senior and youthink, oh, my goodness, I'm so glad that Bill Clinton didn't come tomy school and give this speech five years ago because they might havechanged the rules and made me take all these courses -- even if youthink, that you should want your brothers and sisters coming upbehind you to take all these courses, because it will be better forour country and for your future if we do it. (Applause.)

I've been told that the motto of this school is, "Weexpect, we believe, we achieve." (Applause.) Well, when I look atyou and I think of where we're going in math and science, I expectAmerica to lead the way. I believe in you to be on the forefront ofthat. It's up to you to achieve.

Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)

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