REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
4:40 P.M. EDT
MS. BLAKE: Good afternoon. My name is Barbara Blake, and I'm the principal here at Eastgate Elementary School.
We're very proud to host this event on behalf of the Columbus Public Schools. Like many other schools in this district, we have raised test scores dramatically over the last two years. Here are but two examples.
Two years ago, 10 percent of our 4th graders passed the reading proficiency test; last year, 45 percent passed. (Applause.) Two years ago, 10 percent of our 4th graders passed the math proficiency test; last year, 30 percent. (Applause.) Two years ago, 10 percent of our 4th graders passed the science proficiency test; last year, 33 percent. (Applause.)
We have accomplished this turnaround through good, old-fashioned hard work. It is hard work through solid programs like our research based reading program, direct instruction; we spend 180 minutes per day for reading; through our federal class size reduction program that allows for smaller classrooms; and after-school programs; tutoring programs.
I'm pleased to be part of a district that is focused on children and academic successes, as we are here in Columbus, Ohio. I am pleased to host this conversation here today on behalf of my colleagues throughout the district.
I first became aware of President Clinton and his educational reform programs while he was the governor of Arkansas. At that time, I wrote the governor and asked him for information on his proposed school reforms. I'm glad to report that he did send the information, as requested. (Laughter and applause.)
He has followed through with his beliefs about educational reform. President Clinton is truly a crusader for education. He is an advocate for education and he has made educating America's children his priority.
Eastgate Elementary School and many other schools in the district has benefitted from the resources he has made available to us, that help us do our work in the classroom on a daily basis. We are grateful for his leadership and for the time he has taken today to help our community to understand the work of educating our nation's children.
President Clinton is the leader of the free world, Commander in Chief of all our armed forces of the United States, the highest ranking public official of our country, and a crusader for education.
I present to you the President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Ms. Blake. I guess I should begin by saying I'm certainly glad I answered that letter -- (laughter) -- so many years ago. I want to thank you of welcoming me here. And thank you, Mayor Coleman, for your leadership and for welcoming me also. Thank you, Superintendent Rosa Smith; Representative Beatty;* City Council President Javas; House Minority Leader Ford.
I'd like to thank the leaders of the Columbus and Ohio Education Association, John Grossman and Gary Allen,* who are here. And I'd like to thank all of our panelists who are here.
I have been on a tour these last two days to highlight the good things that are happening in education in America; to highlight the reforms that make these good things possible; and, most important, to highlight the great challenge before the United States today to turn around all low-performing schools and give all of our children a world-class education.
Yesterday morning I was in western Kentucky, in the little town of Owensboro, which has had extraordinary success in turning around its lowest performing schools. In 1996, the state identified 175 of them; just two years later, 159 -- over 90 percent -- had improved beyond the goals the state set for them. In the little school I visited, where two-thirds of the children were eligible for free and reduced lunches, in four years they had recorded the same sort of improvements that you mentioned here, on a trend line.
Which proves that income and station in life are not destiny; that all of our children can learn; that intelligence is equally distributed -- and that means the grown ups among us have a big responsibility to give every single one of these kids, like those beautifully, bright-eyed kids that I saw in this school -- and I just shook hands with every one of them -- have a chance to live up to their dreams. (Applause.)
Then, after I left Kentucky yesterday, I went to Davenport, Iowa, and I visited a 93-year-old high school finally beginning to get the renovations it needs so that students have the learning environment they need. Some of those school rooms didn't even have electrical outlets in the wall. And, believe it or not, it was even hotter in the gym there than it is here today. (Laughter.) So I'm just as cool as a cucumber now.
This morning I was in the nation's first charter schools in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is providing an excellent education to students who were not succeeding in other public schools. That was the first charter school in the country, established in 1992. They were basically schools within the public school system set up by teachers and parents and citizens with a specific, definite mission, and schools that can be shut down if they fail in that mission.
There was one in the whole country -- that one I visited today -- in '72. We've invested $500 million since then and there are now 1,700, providing excellence in education to special needs of the people and their communities. And while I was there I actually had a webside chat on the Internet with students all across America about the challenges in education. And in a matter of about 20 minutes, they sent me over 10,000 questions. (Laughter.) So don't let anybody say the young people are not curious, they could ask faster than I could answer.
I really can think of no better place to wrap up my tour than here in Columbus, which has had a long history of educational intervention and innovation and excellence. In 1909, Columbus opened the nation's very first junior high school.
And now, again, you're on the cutting edge of reform and improvement. I'm here today primarily not to talk, but to listen to the panelists here about what you're doing right. But I want to say for the benefit of the country and through the press who are here that this community has implemented high academic standards and assessments to see if the students and the schools are meeting those standards. They've given students help to meet those standards -- from after-school programs to smaller classes. Their strategy, which is our strategy in the Clinton-Gore administration, of investing more and demanding more is working.
Now, you heard our principal talk about the advances. Just in the last three years, the test scores have skyrocketed, and the test scores themselves have gone up more than 200 percent. But I don't know if you listened to that -- the percentage of students doing an acceptable job -- listen to this
-- in one year -- she talked about two years ago and last year, not this year -- in one year, went up almost 500 percent in reading, over 300 percent in math, and 300 percent in science. In one year. All children can learn. (Applause.)
I want to say a special word of appreciation to the teachers who I also met outside, and to those of you who work to improve the quality of the teacher corps. Listen to this -- more than a third of these teachers have a master's degree and over 10 years' experience teaching. I understand your peer assistance and review program is helping both new and veteran teachers to do better by learning from each other -- something I very much believe in.
And this is very important -- you have cut the attrition rate of first-year teachers by 40 percent. This is terrifically important because we have so many teachers who will be retiring in America in the next few years, and we have the largest number of students in our schools in history. So reducing the attrition rate is a big deal and something you should be very proud of.
While there is still more work to be done here, and indeed, in every school in the country, you have proved that with the right ideas and the right tools, you can do what needs to be done.
Since 1993, our administration has worked hard to make education our number one priority, not just in a speech, but in reality. And I must say, I don't know that I have ever been more touched by anything I have ever seen in any school in my life as I was when I looked up, hanging from the ceiling on the corridor when I came down here -- and you had put up a history of what our administration had done since January of 1993 in education. I was completely blown away. (Applause.) I dare say that outside of Hillary, the Vice President and Secretary Riley, you now know more about what we have done than anybody else in America. (Laughter.)
But let me just briefly review a couple of the things that I think are important. When I came in office we had a $295 billion deficit. Interest rates were high; unemployment was high; we had to get rid of the deficit. We had to keep doing things. We got rid of hundreds of programs. And as we turned a deficit into three years of surpluses, now this year we will have paid off $355 billion of the national debt -- well on our way to getting America out of debt entirely, for the first time since 1835 -- we have doubled our investment in education and training. And I think that's very important. (Applause.)
But we also said to people that got federal aid to education, if you want this federal aid you have to have high standards for what your children should know. We've given the states the resources they need to help schools implement those standards. We've required states to identify their low performing schools and come up with strategies to turn them around. We've helped to reduce class size in the early grades with our program, now in its third year, to provide 100,000 new, highly trained teachers in the first three grades.
I'm happy to say that 55 of those teachers are now in Columbus, two here at Eastgate. And this community has taken the average class size in grades one through three from nearly 25 down to 15. That is, doubtless, one reason you're seeing these big improvements in students' performance, and again I applaud you for that. (Applause.)
When I became President there was no federal support for summer school programs. All these studies would show the kids that were having trouble learning forgot a lot of what they did learn over the summer, and then the teachers would have to spend, four, six, sometimes as many as eight weeks reviewing what was done the year before, before they could even start on what they were being held responsible to teach in the new year.
We went from a $1 million program in 1997, to $20 million in '98, to $200 million in '99, to $450 million this year. And my budget asks for a billion dollars. If the Congress will give it to me, we will be able to guarantee summer school opportunities to every student in every low performing school in the entire United States of America. It is terribly important that we pass this.
What you have done here -- I know that 30 4th graders in this school participate in such programs. I said summer school, I meant after-school -- although the funds can also be used for summer school. I just came from Minneapolis, where a third of all their students are now in summer school programs, in the entire school district. Why? Because they have so many people who are coming from other countries whose first language is not English. They would never even have a chance to not only master the language, but learn what they need to learn if summer school weren't made available to them. So the after-school and the summer school programs are important.
We're trying to build or radically overhaul 6,000 schools and to modernize another 5,000 over the next five years
-- 5,000 a year. We now -- when I became President we had only 3 percent of our classrooms and 16 percent of our schools connected to the Internet. Today, we have nearly 75 percent of the classrooms and 95 percent of the schools with at least one Internet connection with the e-rate, which the Vice President pioneered that gives a $2 billion subsidy so that poorer schools and poorer communities can afford to have their schools log on to the Internet.
So we're working on it. I have sent Congress an education accountability act that basically seeks to ratify what you're doing. It says, set high standards, enforce them, end the practice of social promotion but don't punish the kids for the failures of the system; give after-school programs, give summer school programs. The kids can learn. We see it here. Have a system that works. And I hope that this will pass this year.
And let me just make two final points. As you principal said, I've been working at this a long time. I've been in a lot of schools and I never get tired of going into them. I've shaken hands with a lot of kids, and I'll never get tired of shaking hands with them. They make us all perpetually young.
But I can tell you this: There is a world of difference between what we know now and what we knew in 1979, when Secretary Riley and I started in education reform. And there is a world of difference between what we know now and what we knew in 1983, when the Nation At Risk report was issued and when Hillary and I passed our first sweeping reforms at home in Arkansas.
We know what works. You're seeing what works in this school. What does that mean? It means again that the adults among us no longer have an excuse not to give these opportunities to every child in America. Because now we know what works.
The second thing I'd like to say is, with the strongest economy in our history, the great test the American people face this year in the elections, and those of us who are elected officials and as citizens, is what is it that we mean to do with this prosperity? If we're not going to do this now, when in the wide world will we ever get around to doing it? We're in the best shape economically we've ever been in. We can afford to do it, no matter what anybody says. And I think we ought to get about the business of doing it.
So that's why I came here, why I wanted to hear from all of you. And what the purpose of this panel is, is to sort of fill in the blanks of my remarks here so that we will have a clear sense of how far you've come, how you did it and what we need to do from here on out.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Now, I would like to begin by asking your superintendent to speak a little -- maybe in a little greater detail than I did in my remarks, or even than Principal Blake did in hers, and talk about how did you decide to do what you're doing and what exactly are you doing to turn around low-performing schools? That's the big issue in the whole country.
And let me just make one other comment. I've been in hundreds of schools and so many states. Nearly every problem you could ever dream of in American education has been solved by somebody somewhere. The real problem with American education is we never get our solutions to scale. That is, we don't take what we're doing really right for some people and keep on at it until it's being done for everybody, for all the kids.
And there seems to me to be a real systematic effort here. So that's what I would like for you to talk about, Dr. Smith, in whatever way you want.
DR. SMITH: Well, Mr. President, I was hoping you would ask that question. (Laughter.) We think about this a lot. I think that improvement is multifaceted, and I think -- as I think about this often, that the single most important thing that happened during my tenure here as superintendent is that our board of education approved three narrowly focused goals. And so that enabled -- it gave direction to us. It enabled the entire district then to become focused in the same kind of way. And it also told our community what they could hold us responsible for in terms of the work that we do.
Secondly, I think that it is important that in Columbus now we are only going to implement research-based, proven programs. We're only going to do those things that we know have a real potential of working for us.
And then following that, we are building capacity in our district through staff development and extra support for schools. So extra support for teachers and their learning, and also for schools -- the types of things they need in order to make it work. We also implemented an assessment system and an accountability system that addresses both students and the adults who work in our school district.
Each of our schools, each of our departments have a continuous improvement plan that has an evaluation component. And our staff in every building in every department is working very hard to achieve what they said they needed to achieve for that.
And I'd also say that then we maximized the opportunities that have been presented to us, like the National Science Foundation grant that we've had for five years, the opportunities with reduced class size, the opportunities that our state has given us with kindergarten help and those kinds of things.
And I would lastly like to say that our community, this community, from the city to United Way to the faith community to the business community, are all lined up to support the work for Columbus's children. We put all that together, it starts to work. And I think that is much of why it is working for us here in Columbus. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, give her a hand. That's great. Let me just emphasize one thing she said because, unless you've heard people say these things a lot, it would be easy to miss. She said that there were three clearly defined goals, and then the second point she made I think is very important. She said we are using a research-based approach. That means -- that's a nice way of saying what I said in more crude language, that you don't have to sort of fire a shotgun at this problem anymore. It's not like we don't know what works. There is lots and lots of research available today as a result of the serious efforts of the last 20 years.
And one of the reasons that we have not had the kind of systematic results that we're seeing here around the country is that people don't take the research and really act on it. And it's interesting, because there is hardly any other endeavor of your life that you would ignore that in. If you were starting a business and 15 people had succeeded doing a certain thing, and three people had failed doing the reverse, you wouldn't say, well, I think I'll see if I can't make money doing what the three did. I think I can do it a little better.
So I think that Columbus deserves a lot of credit. I'd like to follow up by asking your principal, Barbara Blake, you've been a principal for a good while. As you pointed out, you wrote me when I was governor, and asked me about some of the things we were doing. Why do you think what you're doing now is working so much better?
MS. BLAKE: One reason is smaller class size. That is very, very important. The second reason is the power program. We have mentors that come in and work with our teachers, so when they need help they get it right then and there. If you want to have your students have excellence, the teacher also must be an excellent person. They need the support.
Back to smaller classes. They're able to work directly with the student. When you have a large class and the child has his hand up, she has to wait until you get to them. They will be able to get to them right away.
Those folks who have said that smaller classes are too expensive, my question to them is, how much is a child worth? We can protect us physically, with our armed forces, but who is going to protect our minds? And the ones who are going to protect our mind is our educational system. And we need -- as Dr. Smith said, the research base tells us this has worked, so let's keep working it instead of trying something new all the time. This has worked; let's keep working it. And high expectations always. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Just to give you some idea of what she said, I went through those numbers a minute ago, but I can't think of how you could possibly explain a 500-percent increase in the percentage of kids reading at the appropriate level in a year other than more individual attention by someone who is a good teacher and knows how to do it.
And let me say, this little class I visited in Kentucky yesterday, this elementary school class, all the kids and I took turns reading a chapter from the wonderful book, Charlotte's Web. And I made every child read a couple paragraphs. And some of those paragraphs are pretty tough for kids in the 3rd grade, you know, and they all got through it.
In four years, they had almost a tenfold increase. And you'll do even better than that at the rate you started. So I think this is very important. I think the smaller classes really do amount to something.
I'd like to ask Heather Knapp to speak next. She is a teacher at East Linden Elementary, and she was hired with the help of our class size reduction funds as a 1st grade teacher. And she teaches a class of 18 first-graders, along with a 25-year veteran of the Columbus Public Schools, Karen Johnson. And you, too, have, I understand, a large immigrant population in your school. So I'd like for you to talk a little about what the impact of children whose first language is not English is and the educational process and what you're doing.
MS. KNAPP: The grant has reduced our class size drastically, and has enhanced our level of instruction. With the reduction, my team teacher and I are able to work with our students in small groups and on a one-to-one basis.
We have the highest Somalian population that are falling behind. We are able to give them the one-on-one and spend the time helping them to assimilate to the American culture. We have a strong administrative support from Lillian Richardson and instead of meeting our expectations this year, we're exceeding them in our classroom.
THE PRESIDENT: My notes -- and they're not always right, but they usually are -- my notes say that if you didn't have these class size reduction funds to hire more teachers, that you and your team teacher, Ms. Johnson, would be each teaching separately, 1st grade classes with more than 30 students in them. And if that's true, there would be no way in the world you could deal with all these children whose first language is not English.
MS. KNAPP: No.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's pretty straightforward. (Laughter.)
MS. KNAPP: As a first year teacher, I believe, no. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I think many Americans have no idea just how diverse these student bodies are now. Like I said, I just came from Minneapolis, St. Paul. We think about that as sort of the capitol of Norwegian America. And it still is. But there are children in the Minneapolis-St. Paul school district combined with native languages in excess of 100, counting all the people who come from the different African and Southeast Asian peoples who are there. And the same thing is happening all over America.
Now, a lot of these kids, once they're here for about 18 months, if they good basic grounding, start to do very well, indeed. And since we're living in a global economy in an increasingly global society, this is a great advantage for the United States. We should be thrilled by this. This is going to put us in a very good position to do very well when all these children get out of school. Ten years, 20 years, 30 years from now our country will be the best positioned country in the entire global society if, but only if, we take care of these kids now.
Sometimes people back in Washington ask me why I spend so much time on this -- you know, when Barbara introduced me she said, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and all that -- I think this is a national security issue for America. I think it's an important part of our long-term security. (Applause.) So I want you to keep plugging.
I'd like to ask the President of the Columbus Education Association now to talk a little bit about your teacher development strategies. Everybody who becomes a teacher knows that he or she is not going to become wealthy, but it's important to pay them enough so that they can afford to stay. But it's more than pay. People also want to feel that they're doing their job well.
Most people like to get up in the morning and look forward to going to work and believe that what they do is important and know they're doing it well. And that feeling is more important for teachers probably than any other single group in our society.
So I'd like to ask Mr. Grossman to talk a little bit about how this peer assistance review program works and how it contributes to teacher quality.
MR. GROSSMAN: Well, Mr. President, we're a little concerned that with all the negatives that have surrounded education that we don't have a pool of people going into teaching that we used to; and that as a result of that, it's become very imperative that we do the extra things to attract the best and then maintain the best within our district.
Peer review really strongly emphasizes the first year because I think back to the days -- although it's history now -- when I started in the classroom that we didn't get any supported. And now with this program we have a core of full-time release teachers who come out, support, mentor, work with the people on a regular basis throughout the entire first year, to make sure they find their way through the system. And our statistics show that we're holding onto our beginning teachers at a much better rate than we ever had before.
And once you begin to do that, you begin to build up a core of qualified teachers that will be able to sustain the system through the years. This is a partnership. This program is strongly run between the union, the administration. And we have a third partner that is always working with us, too -- the College of Education at the Ohio State University, that has provided a lot of insight and training for our people that's just fabulous.
And this -- is a basis where we make it clear that the teachers are going to be life-long learners -- it's sort of a cliche there -- but we take it serious here and we've got a whole series of courses now actually developed between the school district, the union and the College of Education, that we're providing virtually to them 26 different offerings this year to produce sustained growth and development for our experienced people throughout their entire people.
And the bottom line is this -- there is also a review part to it. We don't believe everybody has the right to teach, so we have to have a strong scrutiny of it. But we do believe in due process. And to make certain that all of these people are fairly and solidly supported and evaluated.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just follow up on that a little bit. Again, this is one of those issues, it's very hard -- for example, we've got all these folks here who are reporting on this today. And it's very hard to have a blaring headline across the Columbus paper tomorrow with an exclamation point, "Columbus committed only to use research-based strategies," or "Peer review and assistance the main thing" -- it doesn't have the edge, like, "Clinton robs a liquor store" or something. (Laughter.)
As a result of that, we often overlook what matters most. But let me just tell you this. We forget how much our teachers need support and training and the time and resources to do that. I think a lot of times we just assume that, well, if you went through school and you got good grades in math and you went to an education college and you took those courses well, obviously, you can teach math. We forget -- unless we've actually seen how hard they work -- how much time it takes for these teachers just to get through the day, to deal with the children, give them as much individual attention as possible, give the tests, grade the tests, deal with all the other stuff they have to deal with.
I can only tell you, most people believe the United States military is a pretty efficient operation. And we fought an air war in Kosovo and didn't lose a single pilot. But let me tell you, we did lose pilots. They didn't die in that war. They were pilots that die every year in the military training of the country. And we spend a lot of your tax money just training people relentlessly, over and over and over again. We don't assume that some people are smart and some people are dumb, and some people can do it and some people can't. We assume in the military that the people we accept and the people we train are capable of doing the mission that they were assigned. We don't even assume that you're either a born leader or not, and if you're not born one, you can't lead. We train people to lead, too, in the military, and they lead. And a lot of people who would never be picked as leaders the whole time they're born until the time they join the military wind up performing superbly.
If you look at the best-run companies, they invest huge amounts of time and money in developing the capacities of their people. And we have never done this for our teachers in the sort of systematic way that we should -- setting aside the time we should, investing the money in it we should. And again, it's a very hard thing for -- the mayor can run for election, somebody can run for the school board or somebody can run for President, and it's the last thing you'll ever see them say because you can't turn it into a headline with an exclamation or a 30-second television ad. But it matters.
That's why I wanted John to talk about it. It is so important. And it means something to the teachers. It's a way of reaffirming their significance and their capacity to grow in satisfying their own intellectual hunger. Any time you think training doesn't matter for education, suppose I would say to you, I've got a way to give you a bigger tax cut; we'll cease all training operations in the military and we'll just take smart people and see how they do? (Laughter.)
So this is very, very important. And I thank you for that.
Mr. Mayor, tell me, what has the mayor got to do with the schools here? (Laughter.) What is it you're trying to do?
MAYOR COLEMAN: I'm asked that question often, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: They ask me, too, all the time. (Laughter.)
MAYOR COLEMAN: Yes. Let me tell you. The mayor does not have any legal or direct responsibility over our school system. But, Mr. President, I'm a mayor that believes that education is everybody's business, including the mayor. And what that means is that our city needs to step up to the table -- and has, in fact -- to help.
I'm one that believes that after-school care is very important. That's an area where we can help. You talked about proven efforts, proven programs. Well, after-school is proven, because I'm one that believes that education doesn't end when the school bell rings, learning continues after kids get out of school. And in the city of Columbus, the hours between the time that kids get out of school and parents come home, between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., are the highest times of juvenile crime in this city, but they are also the highest time for parental worry.
So what we are trying to accomplish in this city is a stronger, more systematic, comprehensive after-school system where education can continue. And we've been working with our school system and Superintendent Smith in that regard. In fact, Mr. President, even tomorrow we have this city's first after-school summit where we're bringing the people together from all over the city to address how we get there and what kind of funding -- Mr. President -- (laughter) -- is necessary to accomplish that. And we're looking forward to that.
I started this city's first Office of Education in the Mayor's Office, and as you know, I've been there four months. And we appointed a new member of Cabinet by the name of Hannah Dillard, who is here this afternoon, who was the director of the first Office of Education. And we're serious. We believe that the future of this city is dependent upon how strong our kids are as it relates to education. It's the cornerstone of this community.
And I can tell you here, looking out in this audience I see members of the Chamber of Commerce, people in our neighborhoods, people in this very neighborhood, and I think that's good. At any rate, bottom line is education is everything to our city and it's the future to our city. And after-school is going to be our focus, and mentorship as well as many other things.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say, I think that -- first, I think you're to be commended and I assure you that I will be fighting as hard as I can to get the appropriation doubled again. But as I said, in 1997, I got a million dollars out of the Congress to plan for a federal after-school program. And then we went from $20 million to $200 million to $450 million in three years. And we estimate that if we can get up to a billion dollars a year in federal support for after-school, at least we'll be able to give cities like Columbus enough money to target all the schools where either the performance is the most disappointing or you have the highest percentage of low-income kids.
But I think you will want to do more than that, and you'll probably have to make a case to the business community and others that it's a good economic investment for the city. But again I'll say, particularly if you have a lot of immigrant children, it's really important -- these kids need as much time as they can to master the language so they can begin to learn all the other things they need to learn. And they just cannot do it in the regular day, in the regular school year.
And I'll do what I can to help you. But I think you deserve it. I think you've made the right decision about what's best for you. (Applause.)
MAYOR COLEMAN: Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: I would like to call on a parent now, a stakeholder in this enterprise. Linda Hoetger -- is that right? I studied German in college. (Laughter.) Linda and her husband, Ray, have four sons, all in the Columbus public school system. Both of them volunteer to work in the school system. And their nine-year-old son at East Columbus Elementary School got a federal, 21st Century Learning Center Grant to start an after-school program. So I'd just like for her to talk to us about her work in the after-school program at her son's school -- how does it work, how did it start, what does she do, what is your view of the role of parents in this.
But I would really like to begin just by thanking you and your husband for your support for the schools and for your willingness to give your time. I'd like for you to talk about what you do.
MS. HOETGER: Thank you. I'm scared to death, but that's okay. (Laughter.) We are parent volunteers at East Columbus, and we were on the starting of the 21st Century Learning Grant that was given to East Columbus. And it's to get more after-school programs into the building and have the kids more areas to learn with.
In the afternoon they come in and they have tutoring, if they need tutoring or whatever. They come in, just sit down and enjoy themselves. But with the grant is helping because there are kids that are having problems because they're not a two-house family, so they're trying to get the people -- the families to be together, and work with the parents. And --
THE PRESIDENT: You're doing fine.
MS. HOETGER: We try to get the parents together to work with their kids that have the needs to get more learning. A lot of them are behind that need the extra edge and the grant is helping that a lot.
They do do the 4th grade proficiency tutoring, and my son was part of that and it helped him tremendously. With him doing the tutoring, I was there to be able to help him and know what the test was all about, because it's a very complicated test. And it gave them, I think it was five weeks to deal with this test and not be so stressed when the test came. We try and volunteer wherever we can at the building and at the after-school program. It's been an enjoyment to be volunteering with all the programs.
THE PRESIDENT: Is all the after-school work at the school where you work designed toward helping prepare them for the test or giving them homework assistance? Are there any other kind of things --
MS. HOETGER: A little bit of homework assistance, preparing for the proficiency test. Also there is the parts where they have a mobil unit that comes in that gives them the shots and stuff. And then there's also -- they just had a "break it down" session for the kids that -- stressed. And then the psychologist came in -- or the social worker came in and was with the kids and had a little class with them, to tell you how to do your -- instead of fighting or arguing, how to solve it peacefully.
THE PRESIDENT: I think this is really important. If I might just say, again, I've talked to a lot of young people in a lot of schools about violence, obviously because of all the very high profile tragedies we've had in our schools.
But I think it's worth pointing out that in spite of those high profile tragedies, gun violence in America is down 35 percent since 1993. And violence in the schools has declined. And I think one of the principle reasons is involving more young people in peer programs and training more young people -- young people, like the rest of us, people model the behavior they see, either at home or they learn on television or in some other way. People are not born knowing how to resolve their anger, their frustration, their conflicts in a non-violent way.
And if they don't have models, if they have either destructive models or no models at all, you run the risk of having a higher incidence of violence. So I wanted you to talk about this because I also think this is very important.
Again, the more diverse the student body becomes, the more likely there are to be moments when people who won't understand each other because their backgrounds will be so different, their experiences will be so different. And when those moments come it's very, very important that young people at least have been given a chance to know that there's some other way to resolve their differences.
Also that they don't have to bury them, because that also becomes a big problem. I mean, a lot of these kids that do really bad things are too far gone when the times they do it; but it's only after years and years and years and years of internalizing things that, had they not been buried, the children might have been saved.
So I think that you deserve a lot of credit for that, too, and I think that should be a part of every school's effort, and I thank you for it. (Applause.)
I want to now talk to Laura Avalos-Arguedas, who is an AmeriCorps volunteer with the City Year program in Columbus. She was born in Costa Rica and moved to the United States when she was six years old. She graduated from Grandview Heights High School in 1998 and began a two year volunteer program in City Year, where she tutors four 1st grade students in reading at the Second Avenue Elementary School.
So I'd like for her to talk about that. And I just want to say, I don't know that I have done anything as President that I'm any more proud of than establish the AmeriCorps program. We've now had over 150,000 -- (applause) -- young people like Laura spend one or two years in this program, working in communities, sometimes in their home communities, sometimes half a nation away, and at the process, earning money for college.
In the first four years of AmeriCorps we had more people than we had in the first 20 years of the Peace Corps. And it's just been an amazing thing. So I'd like for you, Laura to talk about why did you decide to become a volunteer in the City Year program and how do you feel about the mentoring you're doing and the relationships you're building with the students and do you think it's improving their learning?
MS. AVALOS-ARGUEDAS: I'm here to speak for the kids today. I heard about City Year at an international fair when I we a freshman or sophomore in high school. I was like, wow, that's so awesome, I want to do that. Because we are made up of young people from diverse backgrounds. And when I saw this group of people together, everybody was very much united and it didn't matter what we looked like, how we talked -- it didn't matter. We were just united. And I was so impressed with that. I was, like, wow, that's really cool.
And then my senior year a couple years ago I was, like, wow, where am I going to go to college? And I was so stressed out and I didn't know what I was going to be doing. And then I remembered City Year and what I really wanted to do.
I work with four young children, one kindergartener -- first graders at Second Avenue. I work with them one on one. One-on-one work is probably the most unbelievable work because I am lucky enough to see their improvement myself throughout a 10-month period. -- one last year, he was held back. In the beginning of the year, he was reading at a level 3, which is kindergarten reading level. Now he's reading at a level 13 very well, where he needs to be for 1st grade. I'm very proud of him; he's done great work.
Not only do we do very good literacy work, but we are also role models for the kids because we're there every day. Many of these children don't have people that are there every day for them, and we're able to be there every day. I'm asked to be people's moms; I'm looked at their sister. I'm very happy and very lucky to be there.
And we also run an after-school program at East Columbus Elementary School. And there we -- right now we have a curriculum that is called "Kindness and Justice" where we teach about respecting others, about serving our community, about honesty, responsibility -- just everything that it takes to be a good citizen. And we make sure that these kids have a place to go. In the beginning of the year, we had 140 students show up at the after-school program, and only 7 corp members. And we were like, oh, no! So we had to cut it down a lot. But these children are very happy, the kids that we have right now.
I've learned a lot, too. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Mayor, I think if she had 140 kids show up with 7 corps members, she just made the strongest case for your after-school initiative. (Laughter.)
MAYOR COLEMAN: I think she has.
THE PRESIDENT: I think you need to make her witness A in your --
MS. AVALOS-ARGUEDAS: We have to cut down.
MAYOR COLEMAN: I might point out as well, there are 50,000 kids between the ages of 6 and 14 years old that are in need of after-school care here, but there are only 13,000 slots available in the city. So your work is to be commended.
THE PRESIDENT: I want to go now to a product of another program I'm very proud of that I did not start. It existed in the government when I became President, but we have dramatically expanded it. It's called Troops to Teachers program, where people who have served in the military, when they retire or when they leave the military then move into teaching. And in an environment in which a lot of our kids come from difficult home situations, I think that the Troop to Teachers program has made a big impact in a lot of places.
Eastgate Elementary has a teacher who came out of 20 years in the Air Force, Darrell Bryon. He's here with us today. And I'd like for him to talk a little bit about what made him decide to switch careers. He doesn't look old enough to have been in the Air Force 20 years. (Laughter.) I don't know if he was honest about his age when he joined. (Laughter.) And he teaches a 4th-5th grade split class. I'd like for him to talk a little bit about how his previous experience helps him in the classroom.
MR. BYRON: Well, Mr. President, I think my previous experience just establishing a work ethic -- because teaching, as any teacher knows, is not a 6-7 day job. Sometimes it turns into a 24-hour job. People don't realize that. But I think the military established a strong work ethic in me, and with that I brought that to Eastgate. And my principal, Mrs. Blake, who I guess unlike my commanders in the military, is not the type who would tell you, I want this in the morning, and they go home and get in the bed and then expect you to deliver to them when they come back to work in the morning. Most times when she says, I need this, then she's right there with me.
And I think that with that it has helped me to learn, to deal with the children in a different way. Because each and every situation is not a situation that sometimes can be easily handled, and sometimes you want to carry it over to the next day, but you have to stop and you have to think about what has happened. And then when that child comes in, I think a hard thing for adults to do is to let go. Children let go. It's hard for adults to let go. And I think when the children come in the next day, you can greet them and let them know that you've let go also. I think that's been the easiest lesson for me to learn, because I guess my military experience in dealing with different people, as you stated earlier, from different backgrounds -- children with different backgrounds -- and dealing with people with different backgrounds, I think I've learned to accept differences in people.
And one of the things that I had a hard time adjusting to at first was the attitudes of the children. In the military, if somebody told you to do something, especially if they outranked you, you didn't question it, you just did it. (Laughter.) I remember the first day of school, I walked in and the children were lining up -- get in line. And they're like, why? (Laughter.) And I had to stop and think. And people, they so often say that males make a big difference. I think they do make a big difference in the schools, but I'm standing there, six feet tall, looking at these little children, saying -- now, he's here questioning me, why. What am I going to tell this little child?
And we had another teacher -- we co-teach or help each other a lot in the classroom -- Ms. Lester -- and she's not even five feet tall. And she walks over and she says, because he told you to. (Laughter.) And they immediately got in line. (Laughter and applause.)
But I think my military experience has taught me to expect a lot from the children, but being accepting of their backgrounds and respectful of their backgrounds. What I would like to see is one thing, but all the pieces of the puzzle have to be in place in order for that to happen. You talked about education becoming a national security issue now, and I really believe it is, because even in my latter years in the military, I saw a drastic change in the quality of recruits -- the work ethic. I found myself sometimes wanting to take on more than I should have to take on. Span of control. There were issues that should have been dealt with by the younger troops -- my younger troops -- that in order to get the job done I took them on.
And it wasn't that their ability wasn't there, but a lot of it was work ethic. And I see that in young children today, the ability, the intelligence is all there, but it's like you have to pull it out. And I think that's one of the things that the military has taught me, you just don't let something go, but you do everything you can to get that maximum performance from your troops at that time, but now I say my students. And I think that that is what has taught me to try to pull out everything I can with them. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: When you told that story about your student sort of talking back to you, I thought to myself, his training in the military has qualified him to be a teacher; his experience as a teacher may have qualified him to be President. (Laughter.) So I can really identify with that.
Harry Truman once said that being President was a job in which you spent most of your time trying to talk people into doing things they should do without your having to ask them in the first place. (Laughter.) But I thank you for your dedication.
Let me now call on Shirley Goins, who is a teacher in the Monroe Middle School, a 6th-grade teacher. And she has worked as a teacher for 30 years. She's taught at Monroe the last 18. And Monroe recently instituted a school uniform policy which required the children to wear white shirts and blue bottoms. And the parents of the students supported it.
When I started supporting these several years ago, some people derided me as being for a "little idea" that a President shouldn't be paying attention to. But I was inclined to disagree. And I would like for Shirley to talk a little bit about why her school adopted this policy and what its effect on discipline and academic achievement and the way the students relate to each other has been.
MS. GOINS: Thank you, Mr. President. We decided to approach having uniforms in our schools after so many styles of clothing had come out -- with the sagging of the pants and tee-shirts saying anything you wanted to say. And we felt that some of these things were distracting to learning.
Our school had a dress code anyway, whereas young men don't wear ear rings, young girls don't wear nose rings. We had already been asking our students to tuck their shirts in; if they had loops they should wear belts. So we already had our dress code in place that was unlike some of the other schools. But we thought we needed to take it another step further, and that is to help the students really get into that mode of thinking about education.
When you all look alike, you don't have to point out the difference in, hey, did you see that skirt she has on today, or look at those pants he has, and all the thousand pockets on them, or what have you.
I will never forget the very first day, because we've been doing this for three years now -- but on the very first day, the teachers greet all of the students as they enter the school building --
THE PRESIDENT: That's great.
MS. GOINS: -- and they all come into the auditorium. And on that day when they all walked in, with their blue and white on, it was just a moment that is hard to describe, because they looked so clean and crisp and ready to learn. It was truly an experience.
The students have accepted the dress code. Of course, those who are 8th graders now, they are looking forward to moving on to high school when they no longer have a dress code. (Laughter.) But I'm happy to say that we have students who follow this dress code 98 to 100 percent each day. Every now and then there are circumstances where they are unable to do it. I have a young man who, just this past weekend, there was a fire in his home. And so his mom sent a note asking could he wear what he had available until they could get back into the uniform area.
Students are focusing on their work. They are not distracted by the frivolous types of clothing. They know that they can wear those things on the weekend. We feel that it has cut down on behavior type problems. You don't have someone wearing a long chain that someone else wants to snatch and cause some type of hazard, or someone trips as they're going up the steps. It's really made a difference in our building.
I truly believe in the uniform. I wear the uniform quite often myself. I feel that when I do that, the students don't feel as though they're the only ones that have to wear it. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's great. You know, when I started -- my wife is the first person who ever talked to me about school uniforms. She's always been for them. She's a fanatic supporter of -- now, I guess now that she's a candidate for office, I shouldn't use the word "fanatic." (Laughter.) Subject to being used against her, I suppose. But we talked about it a lot for young kids. And the first place I went to explore this was Newport Beach, California, which is the third biggest school district in California.
And when the junior high schools adopted it out there, the middle schools, they did it in self-defense, because they had a lot of gangs. So they picked colors to dress in that would protect the kids. All the gangs wore red and blue, so all the uniforms were something other than red and blue. And then all the schools got to pick their own colors and do whatever they wanted.
But I had two children talking to me about it --one young man who came from a difficult circumstance who told me it was the first time he felt safe walking to school in two years. And one young woman who was in a much better situation, economically, where she said she felt like she had been liberated; that neither she, nor her classmates could look down on or feel looked down on as a result of the clothes they wore. They were no longer distracted and they felt good. They were looking forward to going to high school where they wouldn't have to do it anymore, but they thought it had really calmed the atmosphere in the school and that learning had increased and discipline problems had decreased. I thought it was a very interesting.
Between Hillary and those kids, I've been pretty well sold on it ever since. (Applause.) Yes, one person agrees with me in the crowd. (Laughter.) Is this a school-by-school option in the Columbus school district?
MS. GOINS: Yes, Mr. President, it is not required, it is a school community decision with parents.
THE PRESIDENT: Now, how many schools have uniform policies in this --
MS. GOINS: Mr. President, I cannot answer that question. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Does anybody know? Are there others? But there is more than one?
MS. GOINS: There are others. There are several -- many, I would say.
THE PRESIDENT: I think, by the way, that's a good decision. I think if you have it district-wide, then you've got to -- there you go, good for you, looks great. That looks great. I think you either have to -- if it's going to be a district-wide decision it's got to be handled just the way it would be school-by-school. It's a very delicate thing. It only works if the parents are for it. And if the kids buy into it; even if they have reservations, they've got to buy into it.
So it's better not something that somebody like me decides is the right thing to do. What we tried to do is to show people how to do it, including how districts have dealt with the families who couldn't afford to buy the uniforms, where they got the money, how they did all that sort of stuff. But I do think it has some merit.
MS. GOINS: Well, we keep extras in our schools so that if a child has an accident during the day there are extra shirts or extra pants. But before we approached this, we did have meetings with parents, students and teachers, so that we were all on the same page, that this is what we wanted to do.
THE PRESIDENT: Now, what school do you represent in your uniform?
I represent Columbus --
THE PRESIDENT: Good for you. That's a great looking uniform. Thank you. (Applause.) I have been hissed and cheered by students talking about this. (Laughter.)
MAYOR COLEMAN: You're only going to be cheered here in Columbus, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Is there anything else anybody would like to say? Is there anybody in the audience wants to ask anybody on the panel a question? Yes, sir?
Mr. President, I was wondering if Al Gore, if he becomes the next President, will be continuing your policies and ideals? Because they are excellent.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he actually -- he's been outlining his education program, and I would say that there are a couple of areas, obviously, because he can look ahead four years beyond what I can argue for. One of the things that he believes in addition -- he has supported our Educational Accountability Fund, that I just explained, and all these things I talked about. And he's going to have -- he's actually giving a whole speech tomorrow on teacher quality, which I hope you will follow. He's been working very hard on it, and talking to people around the country, educators and other.
In addition to that, in the primary, he came out for a program to add another 100,000 teachers, federally funded, to the 100,000 that we've already provided. We're very concerned that over the next decade another 2 million teachers will retire as the number of students continues to swell. And so we think it -- you know, I agree -- but he came and talked to me about this. He didn't -- it was entirely his idea, not mine. But he said, I think I'm going to go out there and advocate that we take a certain percentage of this surplus and just dedicate it to helping the communities hire teachers. Once we get the 100,000 in there so we know we can get an average class size of 20 in the early grades, the rest -- we're just going to be killing ourselves to get properly qualified teachers in the classroom because people retire.
And so I think you could feel every confidence that he would support the things that have been done, but that he would build on them and do better. That's what I think will happen. (Applause.)
Mr. President, I would like to share with the audience what the first-grader said to you this morning, and it may be a message for Vice President Gore, and he said that you are a great President, and he wanted you to know that whoever followed you was going to have a really tough time. So that may be the answer -- (applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciated his saying that, but the truth is that the country is changing a lot economically, and let me try to put this education issue that we've been talking about here into the larger context.
When I became President in 1992, and the people of Ohio were good enough to vote for me and the Vice President, the big issue was how could we turn the country around. The economy was in a shambles, the crime was exploding, the welfare rates were exploding, things didn't seem to be working. And so in the last seven years, I've tried to look to the long-term challenges of the future, but first we had to get the ship of state righted. Things had to be working.
Now, you're not very cynical anymore about whether you can actually make things better. I mean, if you look at -- you know, we've gone from a big deficit to a big surplus, we're paying down the debt, we've got the lowest unemployment rate in 30 years, the welfare rolls have been cut in half, crime is down to a 25-year low, poverty is at a 20-year low, African American, Hispanic unemployment the lowest ever recorded, female unemployment the lowest in 40 years.
I say that to say nobody questions whether we have the capacity as a people to improve. Nationwide, reading and math scores are up about a grade level. But in places where there's been a sharp focus on results, and on turning around low-performing schools
like Columbus, the results are much more dramatic. But they're up. We have 90 percent of our kids are immunized against serious diseases for the first time, we've -- all the environmental indicators are better.
So the question that the country faces now is a very different question than it faces in 1992. The question we face now is, what is it that we propose to do with this moment of unprecedented prosperity? The question, by the way, also is not whether you're going to change. The world is changing so fast, America will change. It will change just as much in the next four years as it has in the previous four, and the four before that. So the question is not whether you're going to change. The question is how you're going to change.
You know, if the Vice President were running for President and he said, vote for me, I'll do everything Bill Clinton did, I wouldn't vote for him. Because the world's going to be different. That's not -- his message is that, look, this approach works, so we ought to change by building on it. And here's how I'll build on it. I don't think we ought to abandon the approach in economics and education and health care and welfare reform and all these issues, but we're going to have to change. And my take on this as a citizen, as well as somebody with some experience now in these affairs, is that the way to decide what direction you want to take is to first ask yourself, where would you like to go.
I remember one of the funniest things Yogi Berra used to say is that, we may be lost, but we're making good time. (Laughter.) I mean, you've got to ask yourself, where would you like to go? Now, my opinion is -- and again, it's not going to be on my watch, but my opinion is that for the first time in at least 35 years, since we had this kind of economy again, which basically came apart in the Vietnam War and the civil rights crisis, and a lot of other problems we had in the country in the 1960s -- this is the first time we've had since then to say, okay here's where we want to go, and here's what we're going to do to get there.
So my view is, one of our goals ought to be to guarantee that every child in this country will have access to a world-class education; that everybody will be able to afford to go to college if they're otherwise qualified; that poverty among children can be eliminated within through the tax system and other supports; that every working family ought to be able to at least have access to affordable health insurance; that we will deal with the challenges that the aging of America -- when the baby-boomers retire and there's only two people working for every one person drawing Social Security -- we will act now, not then, to save Social Security and Medicare, and add a prescription drug benefit that's voluntary for the seniors. Big challenges.
On the environmental front, we have to tackle this whole issue of global warming. You're all in here fanning yourselves -- the truth is that the climate of this Earth is going up at a very difficult rate. Now, that may seem like an obscure issue, because Columbus is way inland, but it's not going to be very funny if the polar icecaps keep melting, and the oceans rise, and the sugar cane fields in Louisiana, and the Florida Everglades were buried, and the agricultural production of America starts to go north, and the whole framework of life here is changed -- and people in Africa start getting even more cases of malaria and children dying from dehydration. This is a big issue.
So that's what I gave my State of the Union address -- but I think what all you need to decide as citizens is, what do you want for your kids; what do you want for your families; what do you want for your future; where do you want to go? Then you have to say -- eight years ago, I wouldn't have believed that we could write the future of our dreams. But now I know America can work.
So again, it's kind of like school reform. We don't have an excuse anymore for not saying what would we like America to be like when our children are our age. Because we know we can make America better now. We don't have an excuse; we know that. So every one of you -- I wish you'd go home and take a piece of paper and say, what would I like America to look like in 10 years? And then, how does America have to change -- not whether, but how -- to get there.
That's how you'll know who to vote for. That's how you know what ideas you think work. To ask yourself, where do you want to go? And my earnest plea to the American people this year is to do that, so we can take on these big challenges -- because that's what I've been working for. I've been working for the day that when I left office, this country would have both the self-confidence and the capacity to build the future of our dreams for our children. And we can do it now. That's what I think we ought to be doing. (Applause.)
DR. SMITH: Mr. President, on behalf of the Board of Education, everyone in this room, our entire community, we are pleased that you brought this conversation to this school district in this community. We appreciate that you have affirmed the work that we've begun. We appreciate what you're trying to do for children all over this country. We appreciate where you have brought this country to. We respect you, and we appreciate your presidency. Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)
MAYOR COLEMAN: Mr. President, I, too, want to thank you for coming to Columbus to put a spotlight on education, a national spotlight on education. We're working hard in this city and we're committed. It's going to take all of us -- the school system, every person in this audience, every person in our neighborhoods. But you've set a great standard and a great deal of leadership for this nation. We are better off now than where we were eight years ago, and I want to thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
MAYOR COLEMAN: And I'm glad we had it here at Eastgate, too. (Applause.) Eastgate is historic. This is an historic school, not only because my wife graduated from Eastgate -- (laughter) -- but because the first African American nurse was here at Eastgate; because so many teachers helped raise so many kids right here at Eastgate.
And, Mr. President, I'm glad you were here to, again, put the spotlight on Eastgate and this school system. God bless you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.)
END 5:55 P.M. EDT