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The Briefing Room


City Academy
St. Paul, Minnesota

10:13 A.M. CDT

MS. SMITH: So now we're going to go live, to the live webcast. Soeveryone out there watching us on your computer, thank you so much forjoining us. Welcome to everybody. Thank you, City Academy. And thankyou, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Tracy. Are we ready to start?

MS. SMITH: We are ready to start.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me begin by thanking Channel One and theChannel One schools and all those who are taking part in this presidentialWebside Chat.

This has a rich history, really. Fifty years ago and more, PresidentRoosevelt used the radio to bring democracy into the homes of the Americanpeople, with his Fireside Chats. Thirty years later, President Kennedyregularly used televised press conferences to do the same thing. And Ithink it's quite appropriate to use this newest medium of communication toanswer more questions from more students.

And I think we ought to get right to it. All of you know that I'mspeaking to you from the City Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was thenation's first charter school. I believe in these schools and I've triedto promote them and want to do more, and that's why I'm here.

The most important thing that we can do today is to reach out andanswer questions from the students of America, so let's begin. How do youwant to do it, Tracy?

MS. SMITH: Well, our first question is actually from Amy, who is fromCity Academy -- we do have it in the computer here, it's question numberzero -- which is, what more can education do to improve people's lives andmove them out of poverty?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the obvious answer is just to look atthe difference in the job prospects and the income prospects of people whohave education and people who don't. Education in this economy, where wehave the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, if you have enough educationyou have almost 100 percent guarantee that you'll have a good job and youcan move out of poverty.

But it is, by and large, necessary to do more than graduate from highschool. Most people, to have good job prospects, need at least two yearsof college. And I have worked very hard in the last seven years to openthe doors of college to everyone. We've increased the Pell Grants. We'vemade student loans less expensive. And we have given a tax credit worth$1,500 a year to virtually all Americans for the first two years ofcollege. So the most important thing for you to know is, you'll get out ofpoverty if you have an education, but you need more than high school.

MS. SMITH: All right, great. A tech question, of course, since we'retalking to a bunch of techies out there. This is question number 200: Mr.President, my math teacher uses technology to teach us every day. Do youthink this is an important part of learning?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I don't think it's a substitute for knowing thebasics, but it facilitates learning.

And one of the things that we know now -- and I bet a lot of you hereat City Academy have learned this -- one of the things we know now is thatpeople learn in different ways. And sometimes -- like in grade school,some kids will be identified wrongly as being slow learners, or maybe notvery smart, when in fact they learn in different ways. We know that somekids learn by repetition, doing basic math on a computer better. Some kidslearn by listening better. Some learn by reading better. So I thinkthat's important.

But the main thing that technology is going to do for education issomething entirely different. Look at this: we've already got over 2,000questions. We're talking to people all over the country here. Because oftechnology, we can bring what's in any textbook, anyplace in the world, notonly to a place like the City Academy in St. Paul; we can bring it to poorvillages in Africa, in Latin America, in East Asia. Technology can enableus to bring all the knowledge stored anywhere to anybody who livesanywhere, if they have the computer. The poorest people in the world. Andso it is going to be, I think, the most important fact about education forthe next 20 or 30 years.

MS. SMITH: I guess the follow-up question to that is question number721: Mr. President, how can the federal government help provide enoughmoney to have enough computers in school for everyone to be able to haveaccess to a good computer?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me tell you what we have done. In 1996, wepassed something in Congress called the Telecommunications Act. And VicePresident Gore led our fight to require in that law something called theE-rate, the Education Rate, to guarantee that all schools and librariescould afford to log on to the Internet. It's worth over $2 billion a yearin subsidies to schools. That's why 95 percent of our schools are hookedup now to the Internet, connected to the Internet, because they can affordit.

I have also worked very hard to try to get the government to give allthe computers we could to schools, and to go out and work with the privatesector to get more computers in the schools. Frankly, the big issue now ismaking sure that the teachers are well-trained to maximize the potential ofthe computers and the educational software. You know, most teachers willtell you that in every school, there are always a few kids that know moreabout all this than the teachers do. So what we've had to do is to go backand re-emphasize training the teachers.

And let me just say one other thing. I believe that the next big movewill be to try to make personal computers in the home available to more andmore people who can't afford them now, lower income people. (Applause.)

When Tom was up here talking earlier, he said he was born in Mexico.I went to a school district in New Jersey, where most of the kids arefirst-generation immigrants. And the school district, with Bell Atlantic,put computers in the homes of more and more of the parents, so they couldtalk to the principals and the teachers during the day. And it had adramatic impact on the learning of the kids and on reducing the dropoutrate. And the kids, of course, could then use the computers at home aswell.

So I think that's the next big frontier. Can we make the use of thecomputer as universal as the use of the telephone is today -- I wish I weregoing to be around, but I think that's a big frontier the next Presidentshould try to cross. (Applause.)

MS. SMITH: This is question number 2,173 -- we are getting a lot ofquestions today. This is from Lawrence, from Fayetteville, Arkansas.

THE PRESIDENT: I've been to this school. This is the town thatHillary and I were married in. I lived there when I went home to Arkansasand taught in the university.

MS. SMITH: All right. He's in the 7th grade, and he wants to knowwhat you plan to do about making students feel safer in today's classrooms.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think the only way to make youfeel safer is to try to make sure you are safer. But you should know that,in spite of these horrible examples of school violence we've seen -- wejust celebrated the anniversary of Columbine; we had the terrible incidentin Arkansas and Mississippi, Oregon, lots of other places -- that, overall,school violence has gone down. And I think the main thing you have to dois to keep guns and weapons out of schools, to try to keep people off theschool grounds that don't belong there, and to have a zero tolerance policyfor guns in the schools, and for violence.

Then I think iI's also important to have positive ways of dealing withconflict. I think there need to be peer mediation groups in schools. Ithink students need to have access to counselors, and if they need it, tomental health services. I think that we have to teach young people thatthere are nonviolent ways that they can resolve their legitimate conflicts,and there are nonviolent ways they have to get their anger and frustrationout.

So I think there's partly a law enforcement strategy to keep guns andknives and other weapons out of the hands of kids at school; to keep peopleoff the school grounds who shouldn't be here. Then I think there has to bea positive human development effort to get people to adopt nonviolentstrategies for dealing with their anger, their hurt, and their conflicts.

MS. SMITH: Let's do 201. This is from Elena -- I hope I'm sayingthat right: President Clinton, do you think that the physical condition ofa school building has an effect on learning in the classroom?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. If it's bad enough -- in two or threeways. First of all, I think if a school is in terrible physical condition,when children go through a school every day, if the roof is leaking and thewindows are broken and it's stiflingly hot -- I mean, young people are notstupid, they're smart. They say, okay, all these politicians and teacherssay we're the most important people in the world; if we're the mostimportant people in the world and education is the most important thing inthe world, why are they letting me go to school in this wreck of a buildingwhere I'm miserable? (Applause.)

The second problem is, it's actually harder to teach in difficultphysical facilities. I was at a school -- actually, a very beautifulschool yesterday in Davenport, Iowa. It's 93 years old. And there arerooms in that building where there were no electrical outlets in the walls.And there are all kinds of problems there. It's a magnificent building;they shouldn't tear it down, but they need to modernize it.

And so I do, I think it makes a big difference. That's why for overtwo years now I've been trying to get Congress to adopt a plan to let thefederal government help build 6,000 new schools and help repair 5,000 moreevery year for the next five years, because it's a terrible problem. Theaverage school building in Philadelphia is 56 years old -- 65 years old; inNew Orleans, over 60 years old. In New York, there are school buildingsthat are heated still by coal-fired furnaces.

And also, there are all these overcrowded schools. I went to a littlegrade school in Florida with 12 house trailers out behind it to house thekids -- 12, not one or two. So yes, I think it makes a big difference.

MS. SMITH: Let's go to -- here's one I know you have an opinion about-- 2987. This is Brandon: What do you think about school uniforms?

THE PRESIDENT: I support them in the early grades. I think -- andI'll tell you why. I have been a big supporter of school uniforms -- well,I support them for high schools, too, if people want them. But let me justsay, we have a lot of evidence that particularly in elementary and juniorhigh schools, school uniforms perform two very valuable functions -- theypromote discipline, and they promote learning. Why? Because in the earlyyears, school uniforms remove the economic distinctions between kids.

I went to a junior high school out in California, in the third-biggestschool district in California, where they have a school uniform policy.And I had an inner-city young boy talking, and a young girl who wasprobably upper middle-class. And both of them loved the uniform policy,because they said it removed the distinctions between kids, and it removedthe pressure to try to show where you were in some economic or socialhierarchy by what you were wearing.

But I also can tell you, there is lots and lots of evidence that itreduces conflict and violence, and promotes an atmosphere of disciplineamong younger people. So I think -- you know, I really think that havingthat policy is good. I've seen it all over America. I've done everythingI could to promote it. I've been ridiculed and attacked and made fun offor promoting it, but I believe in them. I think they do good. I do.(Applause.)

MS. SMITH: We've done lots of stories on that. I don't think everykid in America agrees with you, but --

THE PRESIDENT: I know they don't. (Laughter.) You ought to see mymail about it. (Laughter.)

MS. SMITH: Question number 296. This is from Melinda, from DublinHigh School -- we don't have where Dublin is.

THE PRESIDENT: Ohio, I think, isn't it?

MS. SMITH: Is it Ohio?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so.

MS. SMITH: Very good. Do you believe that students should berequired to do community service as a part of their core curriculum?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. That's the short answer; I do. Maryland is theonly state now that requires community service as a requirement. To get ahigh school diploma in Maryland, at some point you have to do somecommunity service.

You know, I've been a big supporter of community service. I foundedthe AmeriCorps program, and now 150,000 young people have served theircommunities and earned some money to go to college through variousAmeriCorps projects. We started a program called America Reads; there arenow people from 1,000 different colleges going into the grade schools ofAmerica, helping make sure all of our 3rd-graders can read. And a lot ofretired groups, too.

I believe community service is one of the most important things thathappens in America to bind us together across the lines that divide us.And in 1987, 13 years ago, I was on a commission on middle schools whichrecommended that community service be made a part of the curriculum. SoI've been a believer of this for a long time.

I would leave it to the schools or the school districts to decide whatthe young people should do. But I think it does us all good to get out anddeal with people who are drastically different from ourselves and who, nomatter how bad we think our lives are, there is always somebody with abigger problem and a bigger need and a bigger challenge. And I just thinkit's good for people to serve other people in the community. So I wouldmake it a part of the curriculum. I would. (Applause.)

MS. SMITH: Okay, this is 3348, from Mission Junior High, in Texas:What is being done to ensure that economically disadvantaged students areprovided the opportunities for higher education?

THE PRESIDENT: Good question. Let me give you all the answers. Thishas been a big priority of mine. Here's what we've done. Since I've beenPresident we have increased the number and the amount of the Pell Grants,which is the scholarship the federal government gives to the pooreststudents. We have also changed the student loan program, so that it's nowcheaper to take out a loan if you get one of the so-called direct loans,issued directly from the federal government. The interest rate is lower.And then when you get out of school, if you take a job that has a modestsalary, you can limit your repayments to a certain percentage of yourincome. It's saved, in five years, $8 billion in student loan costs forAmerica's students.

We've raised the number of work study positions, from 700,000 to amillion. And we passed the HOPE Scholarship -- that's the biggest deal.It's a $1,500 tax credit for the first two years of college, and then alsofor the junior and senior year and for graduate schools you get a taxbreak. And I'm now trying to get Congress to adopt a law which allowspeople to deduct up to $10,000 in college tuition from any tax burdens theyhave. So I think that will help.

If that passes I think we can honestly say that income is not abarrier to going to college. Between the scholarships, the loans, thework-study programs and the HOPE Scholarship tax credit, which 5 millionfamilies have already used, that's why college-going -- 67 percent of thehigh school graduates in America are now going on to college. And I wantto get it up as close to 100 as we can get it. So if you have any otherideas in Mission, Texas, let me know. But we've done a lot on this and Ithink it's very important. (Applause.)

MS. SMITH: Question, 4,641, this is Mike from Buffalo: What do youthink the federal government can do to attract quality teachers to innercity public schools?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we've got a little program we started a coupleof years ago -- this is a really good question -- where based on the oldhealth service corps idea, where we would pay off people's loans to medicalschools if they'd go practice medicine in isolated, rural areas or innercity areas.

So we have a small program now to say to young people, if you'll goback and teach in an inner city school where there is a teacher shortage,we'll pay off your college loans. And I think that will help. I wouldlike to see that program dramatically expanded.

I think the other thing is, though, we're going to have to pay theseyoung people more if we want them to do that. (Applause.) In the next fewyears we could have a real problem with teacher shortage, because we've gotthe largest student body in American history -- you finally, all of you arebigger than the baby boom generation I was a part of, for the last twoyears.We have about 2 million teachers slated to retire over the coming five toeight years. And we have a greater need for teachers than ever beforebecause our student bodies are more diverse, in terms of language andbackground and culture.

So I think the states and the federal government are going to have tolook at this. I'm trying to put 100,000 more teachers out there now in theearly grades. I know the Vice President has said that he believes we oughtto have -- the federal government should help the states and schooldistricts hire 600,000 more over the next four years after that. But thisis going to be a big issue.

My own view is, the best way to get young people to go into the innercities, though, is to defray the cost of their own education -- say, if youteach for two, three, four years, you get this much knocked off. Because Ihave found that there is a great desire, again, for community service, andthere is a lot of interest in doing this if we can make it reasonablyattractive.

MS. SMITH: This is Brenna, from Lamar: President Clinton, what areyour views on parents home-schooling their children?

THE PRESIDENT: I believe two or three things about home schooling.I've had a lot of experience with this, because I was a governor at a timewhen this was being debated around America. I think that states shouldexplicitly acknowledge the option of home schooling, because it's going tobe done anyway.

It is done in every state in the country and, therefore, the bestthing to do is to get the home schoolers organized -- if they're notorganized in your state -- deal with them in a respectful way and say,look, there is a good way to do this and a not so good way to do this, butif you're going to do this your children have to prove that they'relearning on a regular basis. And if they don't prove that they'relearning, then they have to go into a school -- either into a parochial orprivate school or a public school. But if you're going to home-school yourkids, the children have to learn -- that's the public interest there.

And that's what we did in Arkansas. The Home School Associationstrongly supported it -- accountability for what their children werelearning. There will always be, in any given state, a certain percentageof people -- normally a small percentage -- for reasons of personal valuesor educational philosophy will want to do that. And most of the timethey're very dedicated parents, deeply committed to what they're doing.And I can tell you this, it's going to happen regardless, so it's better tohave laws which have standards on it.

From my personal point of view, I never -- it wasn't an option in ourfamily, but if it had been I wouldn't have done it because I wanted mydaughter to go to school where she would be exposed to all different kindsof people and see how the larger society worked and be a part of it. But Ithink that we should explicitly make that option available, we shouldrespect the people who choose it; but we ought to say, if you do it, yourchildren have to demonstrate that they know what they're supposed to knowwhen they're supposed to know it.

MS. SMITH: Just an update, we've received more than 10,000 questionsso far -- pretty good.

THE PRESIDENT: I need to give shorter answers. (Laughter.)

MS. SMITH: Question 4,154, this is Howard from Providence: Do youconsider the goal of public education to be to make someone ready foremployment, practical; or to make someone a well-rounded, enlightenedindividual?

THE PRESIDENT: Both. That is, I think -- when I say ready foremployment, if you're talking about getting through high school, I'vealready said I don't think that will make most people ready for employment.

We live in a world in which what you know is important, but whatyou're capable of learning is even more important, because the stock ofknowledge is doubling once every five years, more or less. So I think thatbeing able to be a useful member of society is important. But I also thinkbeing able to be a good citizen, and having a liberal arts background isimportant. So I think we should pursue both.

I've never thought of education as purely a utilitarian thing, justsomething that is a meal ticket. It also makes life more interesting. Allthese young people here -- you know, if you develop the ability to read andto think and to feel comfortable with ideas and emotions and concepts, itmakes life more interesting. It makes your own life more fulfilling. So Ithink education should both prepare you for the world of work, and help youlive a more fulfilling life and be a better citizen. (Applause.)

MS. SMITH: Okay, this question 5492. This is Eliza from New York:How can the testing system be changed so that teachers are not pressured tothe point that they are cheating for the kids? Don't you see it as a flawin the system more than in the teachers? I guess they're talking abouthigh-stakes standards testing.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, well, here's the problem. First of all, I thinkthat it is almost unavoidable, if you believe, as I do, that there has tobe some measure, at some point along the way in school, of whether youngpeople have actually learned what their diplomas say they have learned.And what I think is important -- the way, I can tell you how it can bechanged so that the teachers aren't pressured to cheat. You can have oneor more second chances.

MS. SMITH: So if you fail a test --

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, yes. Let me give you an example. In Chicago,for example, which most people believed a few years ago had the mosttroubled big-city school system in the country, they adopted ano-social-promotion strategy. And if you didn't pass the exams and makeappropriate grades, you couldn't go on. But they gave 100 percent of the

END 10:00 A.M. CDT

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