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President Clinton Speaks About Education Issues

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 29, 1998


Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

11:31 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. First of all, let me thankmy longtime friend, Mary Hatwood Futrell, for that wonderfulintroduction, and thank you for your warm welcome. I thank theleaders of our education organizations, Bob Chase and Sandy Feldman,for their work, and welcome all of the members of EI here to theUnited States. I am delighted to join in your Second Congress onyour final day in Washington. I hope you've had a successfulmeeting; even more, I hope you will be going home with new energy foryour lifetime commitment to your children and the future of yournations.

It is always an honor for me to meet with educators. AsPresident, I have had the privilege of visiting schools around ournation and around the world. And wherever I have been, whether in asmall village in Uganda or a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, atown in California or an inner-city school in Chicago orPhiladelphia, I always meet teachers whose dedication to theirstudents is nothing short of heroic -- men and women for whomkindling the spark of possibility in every child, from thatonce-in-a-lifetime mathematics prodigy to a young girl who dreams ofbeing the very first in her family just to finish school and go on tocollege.

For those people, teaching is not a job, but a mission.I know that, for you, it is such a mission. So let me thank you andyour 23 million colleagues across the world for making the educationof our world's children your life's work.

We are living in an era of unprecedented hope andpossibility, but profound challenge. A technological revolution issweeping across the globe. It is changing the way we live and workand relate to each other. It is binding our economies closertogether, whether we like it or not. It is making our world smaller.Today, 100 million people are logging onto the Internet. In justthree years, that number will be about 700 million.

With all these changes come new challenges. We knowthat new democracies must be very carefully tended if they are totake root and thrive. We know that with technology advancing atrapid speed, the best jobs and the best opportunities will beavailable only to those with the knowledge to take advantage of them.We know that if we do not take action, dangerous opportunity gapsbetween those people and those nations who have these skills andthose who do not have them will grow and deepen.

The best way, therefore, to strengthen democracy, tostrengthen our nation, to make the most of the possibilities, and todo the best job of meeting the challenges of the 21st century is toguarantee universal, excellent education for every child on ourplanet. (Applause.)

Where once we focused our development efforts on theconstruction of factories and power plants, today we must invest morein the power of the human mind, in the potential of every single oneof our children. A world-class education for all children isessential to combatting the fear, the ignorance, the prejudice thatundermine freedom all across the globe today in the form of ethnic,religious and racial hatreds. It is essential to creating aworldwide middle class. It is essential to global prosperity. It isessential to fulfilling the most basic needs of the human body andthe human spirit. That is why the 21st century must be the centuryof education and the century of the teacher. (Applause.)

As Mary said, throughout my career first as the governorof one of our states and now as President, I have worked to makeeducation my top priority. Today I want to share with you what weare doing to provide every American at every stage in life a world-class education. And I want to recommit the United States to workingwith other nations to advance education as our common cause.

We are working very hard with nations all across theworld through our AID programs -- our Agency for InternationalDevelopment -- and in other ways. At the recent Summit of theAmericas in Santiago, Chile, we reaffirmed the commitment of theAmericas to work in common on the training of teachers and thedevelopment and dissemination of not only technology, but educationalsoftware, so that we could learn more everywhere we live, so thatchildren in small villages in South America could have access tothings which today are only dreams.

When I was in Africa I reaffirmed the focus of many ofour aid programs to be on education. We announced in South Africa aproject with our Discovery Channel to try to bring technology and thebenefits of it to small African villages. We are working in Bosniaand Croatia to help the students there learn about democracy so thatthey can preserve what so many have given so much to create -- a realsustainable peace in a multi-ethnic democracy.

All across the world America has an interest in seeingeducation improve. One-third of the adults in the world areilliterate today, two-thirds of them live in the poorest countries.We are doing better. The literacy rate was only 43 percent in 1970.The percentage of our children going to school in 1970 across theworld was only 48 percent. Today, it's 77 percent, at least in theprimary school years.

And something that's very important to my wife and tome, in 1970, only 38 percent of all school children were girls.Today the percentage is 68 percent -- all girls in school.(Applause.) But think about it, that means 32 percent of the girlswho should be in school are not. And I still visit countries wherebasic primary education for girls is still a dream in some places.That must not be. If we want to see these societies elevated, if wewant to see the economies grow, if we want to see families made wholeand able to plan their futures, we must educate all our children,the boys and the girls alike. (Applause.)

Here in America, we have recognized the increasingimportance of a college education to our position in the globaleconomy. In our last census, it became clear that young people whohad less than two years of post-high school education were likely toget jobs where their incomes never grew, and were far more likely tobecome unemployed.

And so we have done everything we can to open the doorsof college to all Americans who will work for it. We have made thefirst two years of college virtually free, with a tax credit we callthe Hope Scholarship. Through expanded, low-cost student loans and

more student work positions, through tax credit and deductions forall college post-graduate and continuing education work by olderworkers, through giving our young people the opportunity to earnscholarship money by doing community service, we are making all formsof higher education more affordable to all kinds of Americans.

Second, we are working to establish high nationalstandards to ensure that our children, from the earliest years,master the basics. Many of your countries already have nationalstandards. Because in America we have a history of education beingthe responsibility of state governments and being within the span ofcontrol of local school boards, we don't have such nationalstandards.

I believe in a global economy. Every nation should havenational standards that meet international norms. I believe that somany students from around the world did better than their Americancounterparts in the Third International Math and Science Studybecause their country had set high standards, challenged theirstudents to master rigorous and advanced materials, and used nationaltests to make sure that they did. I want to do the same in America,beginning with high standards in 4th grade reading and 8th grademathematics, to give teachers and parents the tools they need tosecure our children's future.

Third, we know that good teachers are the key to goodschool. We are working to reward the most innovative and successfulteachers in our classrooms; to help those who fail to perform to moveon or improve; and to recruit more of our best and brightest to enterthe teaching profession, especially in areas where there are a lot ofpoor children in desperate need of more help.

Fourth, we are working to create better learningenvironments by modernizing our schools and reducing class size,especially in the early grades, where research has shown it makes apositive and permanent difference in learning in our country.(Applause.)

Fifth, we are working hard to prepare our children forthe demands of the Information Age by connecting every classroom andlibrary to the Internet by the year 2000 and by training teachers inthese new technologies.

Sixth, we are working to deal with one of America's mostpainful problems: the presence of violence in our schools. We havea zero-tolerance policy for guns in our schools. Later this year, wewill be having our first ever conference -- White House Conference inWashington on school safety. I hope and pray this is not a problemin any of the countries here represented, but if it is, we would beglad to have your ideas and to share ours with you. Teaching cannotsucceed and learning cannot occur unless classrooms are safe,disciplined and drug-free. And we are working are on it and wewelcome your support and help. (Applause.)

Next, we are working to end one of the most harmfulpractices of a public school system that is too often overwhelmed bythe challenges it faces and the lack of resources to meet them -- theso-called practice of social promotion, where children are passedfrom grade to grade, even when they don't learn the material first.But we believe that along with ending the practice we must follow theexamples set in our city of Chicago, where there is extra help forthe children after school and in the summer, so that we don't justidentify children as failures, but instead say, we're going to giveyou more help until you succeed. I think that is profoundlyimportant. (Applause.)

Finally, we are working to establish mentoring programsfor children in our poorest and most under-served areas, along withguarantees of access to college that they get in their middle schoolyears if they continue to learn and perform, so that when thesechildren are 11 or 12 or 13 they can be told, if you stay in schooland learn and you want to go on to a college or university, we cantell you right now you will have the help you need to do it. I thinkit is a powerful incentive, and in areas where children have been soused to being ignored for so long and feel that they will always betrapped in poverty, I think it is profoundly important.

Today, there is a vigorous debate going on in ourCongress over the nature and extent of our responsibilities as anation to our children's education. There are some in the otherparty who don't see eye to eye with me on what we should be doing forour public schools. Even as we recognize the importance of raisingacademics, challenges, standards and challenging our students to meetthem, there are those who would actually prohibit the development ofnational tests for our schools, even if it's voluntary toparticipate.

Even as more studies confirm what we have alreadysuspected about the importance of early child development, some woulddeny Head Start opportunities to as many as 25,000 of ourdisadvantaged children. Even as the greatest number of childrensince the baby boom are enrolling in our schools, some would weakenour efforts to recruit new, highly qualified teachers. Even ashundreds of thousands of high-paying, high-tech jobs all acrossAmerica go begging for workers, some would cut our investments ineducation technology and technology training for teachers. Even asthe evidence is overwhelming that smaller classes -- especially inareas where children have difficulties learning, can make apermanent, positive difference in what children learn and what theycontinue to learn throughout their lifetime in the early grades,there are those who say we have no business investing national taxdollars in such endeavors.

Believe it or not, there are even some who are trying tokill one of our most successful efforts to provide on-the-jobtraining to our young people and to give them something positive todo and ensure that they stay out of trouble in their free time. Fora generation in our country, legislators from both our majorpolitical parties have supported the Summer Jobs program that hashelped millions of our most disadvantaged young people appreciate theresponsibility of a regular job and the reward of a regular paycheck.

Eliminating summer jobs would mock the very values weAmericans cherish most: hard work, responsibility, opportunity. Ifwe truly believe in these things then we should help to expose allour young people, especially those who need it, to the world of work.If we insist upon responsibility from all our people, then those ofus in power must take responsibility for giving our teenagers thejobs that will help them succeed in the future and keep them on agood path today.

If we believe in opportunity for all, then we must notdeny our young people this vital springboard to opportunity. I saythis to point out to all of you that if you don't get your way oneducation every day in your own countries, don't be surprised if wedon't get to do everything we want to do, either. What seems soself-evident to you and me is still not entirely clear to alldecision makers. But I want to encourage you to keep up the fight.

In all my visits at home and abroad, I have found outthat you can learn a lot about a country's future by visiting itspublic schools. Does every child -- boy and girl, rich and poor --have the same opportunity to learn? Are they engaged by patient,well-trained and inspiring teachers? Do they have access to thematerials they need to learn? Are they learning what they need toknow to succeed in the country they will live in and in the futurethat they will create? Do they have opportunities to go on touniversity if they do well and deserve the chance to do so? Are theschools themselves safe, positive, good places to learn?

We have to build a future together where the answer toall these questions is "yes" in every community, in every nation. Ibelieve we can build a future where every child in every corner ofthe world, because of the explosion of technology and because of thededication of teachers, will have the skills, the opportunity, theeducation to fulfill his or her God-given potential.

I know this will happen if teachers lead the way. Iknow that there will be political fights to be fought and won. Iknow one of your honorees at this conference is being honored fortaking huge numbers of children out of bondage and putting them backin school. Some people still view children as little more than amaterial asset. They are us as children, and they are our future andthe future of the world.

When he came to the White House to be honored as ourNational Teacher of the Year, Philip Bigler said, "To be a teacher isto be forever an optimist." (Applause.) I ask you not only to bevigorous in the classroom, but vigorous as citizens. You must notstop until every political leader with any political influence, inany political party, in any nation knows that this is something thathas to be lifted above political partisanship. This is somethingthat ought to be beyond all debate.

If you understand how the world is going to worktomorrow and you have any concern about the integrity and therichness of the human spirit in every child, then all of us must joinhands to help you succeed in giving all those children the tomorrowsthey deserve.

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

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