Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 21, 1999


Presidential Hall
Old Executive Office

12:30 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Sergeant, I don't think I need to say anything else. (Laughter.)

Let me thank all of you for coming today and welcome you here. This is the 21st year of a partnership in education that involves Hillary and me and Secretary Riley. We all started working together in 1979, and we've been at it a good while now. Few things that I have ever been a part of have given -- sort of thrilled me more than just listening to Arthur Moore talk. And I'm sure all of you felt the same way.

I thank the members of Congress who are here, and all the other distinguished guests. I would like to recognize just three -- first, we have here the President of the Navaho Nation, Kelsey Begaye; and Samuel Penney, the Chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. And Arthur Moore's daughter, Andrea, is here, and she must have been awful proud of her father today and I know he's proud of her. So we welcome all of them. (Applause.)

After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in October of 1957, President Eisenhower asked the Congress to rise to the challenge of the times and proposed a new federal program to help public school teachers improve their math and science instruction. He understood that teaching is an important part of our national security. And I think, therefore, that President Eisenhower -- and General Eisenhower -- would have been very pleased to see Arthur Moore as a soldier turned teacher.

Two days ago, in the State of the Union address, I asked Congress to rise to the demands of this time, to pass an Education Accountability Act that would offer more investment, demand more accountability, and not as some have implied, have the federal government try to run more of our day-to-day activities in our public schools, but simply have the federal government respond to what the teachers of this country and the principals and the educators have been telling us, and invest in what works.

We now have an opportunity to do that. With the strength of our economy and with the size of our surplus, we have an opportunity. We also have an obligation.

Research confirms what most of us know from our own experience -- what most determines whether students learn is not family background or even dollars spent per pupil, but the talent, the ability and the dedication of their teachers.

Every adult in this room, I know, can recall the names of teachers who deeply affected our own lives and helped us to get where we are today. I was thinking this morning about my high school band teacher. And you say, you wouldn't think that the band teacher would have a lot to do with a person becoming President, but he instilled not only in me a love of music, but also a reminder that I could never manifest that love unless I worked like crazy; that I had to learn to work in a team. I couldn't play too loud just because I liked to play. (Laughter.) And because we ran the statewide music festival every year, he taught me how to organize and how to manage people and time, all kinds of things that teachers teach children that stay with them for a lifetime.

There are an awful lot of teachers like that in America. But we have to face the fact that because our classrooms are bursting with 53 million children, because, frankly, we still don't pay our teachers as much as we should in most places, a quarter -- listen to this -- a quarter of all secondary school teachers, don't have college majors or even minors in the subjects they are teaching. And the deficit is greatest where the need is greatest.

Schools with the highest minority enrollment, for example, have less than a 50-50 chance -- now, think about this -- less than a 50-50 chance of having a math or science teacher with a license or degree in the field.

I don't know if you remember what I said in the State of the Union the other night about what the international test scores show, but basically our 4th graders rank near the top of all industrialized countries in performance in math and science. Our 8th graders drop to the middle; our 12th graders are near the bottom. No one can doubt, surely, that one reason is the absence of a pool of teachers who have been trained in the subjects they are teaching.

Now, we have a real opportunity to get more good teachers in general, more good education practice, and more properly specifically trained teachers, in particular, this year, because every five years, the federal government revisits the terms on which it invests $15 billion in our nation's schools. 1999 is the fifth year -- we have to do it again. It gives us a golden opportunity and a solemn responsibility to change the way we invest the money to invest in what works and to stop investing in what doesn't.

So I intend to send Congress a plan that will, among other things, require states receiving federal funds to end social promotion, but will also provide them the funds for summer school, after-school, and other support for children who need it. If you look at what I just said about the progression of the test, it is not the students who are failing, it is the system that is failing the students. And we need to respond accordingly.

Second, to adopt and enforce strict discipline codes, something teachers in the teachers' organizations have asked us to support more vigorously. Third, to give parents report cards on their children's school. Fourth, to turn around the worst-performing schools, or close them, and we will provide funds to help states do that. And finally, to be accountable for the quality of their teachers, with new teachers passing performance exams, all teachers knowing the subjects they're teaching, and we will provide support for that.

We also should build or modernize 5,000 schools; continue our work to hook every classroom and library up to the Internet. But I want to focus for a moment on the teaching. How can we get more Arthur Moores out there? And I'd like to mention just four things that will be in the balanced budget I will submit to Congress early next month.

First, I will call on Congress to invest $1.4 billion to hire new, better-trained teachers to reduce class size in the early grades. This is the next big installment on our goal to hire 100,000 new teachers, and it's a 17-percent increase over the very large down payment we made last year.

Second, I will ask Congress to invest $35 million to provide 7,000 college scholarships for our brightest young people who commit to teaching where they can do the most good, in the poorest inner city and rural schools. This is over five times the investment Congress made last year, and I think it is a wonderful idea. We came up with this idea because it's modeled, basically, on the National Medical Service Corps. Some of you who may have once lived in rural America -- when I was governor, sometimes the only way we could get doctors to go into rural areas is that they had taken funds to go to medical school, and they realized -- in return for which they would need to go out into rural areas and practice medicine, and they got to pay off a certain amount of their loan every year.

It's also the way the national defense loans worked. I actually had one of them in law school. If you taught school for a certain number of years, a certain percentage of your loan would be forgiven. And I can't think of a better way to give some of the most gifted young people in this country a chance to do something they might like to do anyway, in ways that would, in effect, work out to supplement the salary they would otherwise be earning.

Third, I will ask Congress to invest $10 million to train 1,000 Native Americans to teach on Indian reservations and in other public schools with large Native American populations.

Fourth, I will call on Congress to invest $18 million to recruit and train retired members of the military to become teachers. Since 1994 -- you heard Arthur say this is fifth year of teaching -- our Troops for Teachers Program has helped 3,000 active duty soldiers who were planning to leave the military and find rewarding second careers in teaching. That experience has shown that people like Mr. Moore make great teachers and great role models.

I again want to thank all the members of Congress -- Secretary Riley mentioned them -- one of them, Chet Edwards, is here -- for the work that they have done in this regard. Congresswoman Mink and I were recently together in Korea visiting our troops. And I met a Senior Master Sergeant who was about to retire after 29 years in the military; he was 49 years old. He could still run a six-minute mile. (Laughter.) And he was going home to Kentucky to teach children. He said, I think I can do those kids some good.

There are a lot of people like this. You go out into -- if you visit with the people in the military, that make the military their career, you just can't fail to be impressed with the accumulated weight of experience. They've dealt with every kind of human problem you can imagine. They understand, increasingly -- and I must say, in the last several years, more and more -- the importance of balancing discipline and creativity, letting people think for themselves, but also reminding them that they have to play on the team and with certain rules. And they understand how to manage people and resources -- and limited resources -- to do a job of limitless importance. They tend to have math and science backgrounds. And they have shown a remarkable willingness to teach in inner city and rural schools that have difficulty recruiting teachers.

So these 25 million veterans -- and there will be more as time goes on, obviously, more and more every year -- are an incredible pool of potential teacher talent. The Secretary of Education always tells me that we're going to have to hire two million more teachers in the next few years, because of the growth of the student population and the retirement of the existing teacher corps.

So I think we should do more, and this is a big down payment on it. And I must say, members of Congress, if you think that we ought to spend even more money on it, I'll support you. (Laughter and applause.) I think we should make it easier for people who have kept our nation strong to provide for a strong American future in the 21st century.

Now let me just mention one other program that is very important to me, and that's the Master Teacher program. The National Board for Professional Teacher Certification has received almost unanimous support from teachers and other educators throughout our country. We are trying to get 100,000 certified master teachers, enough so that we'll have at least one in every school building in America, and when we do that, we know they will have a dramatic impact on improving the quality of the existing teacher corps. So I hope we will have support for that.

And if we do these things, in addition to the other proposals, I think that we will be doing our part to ensure that we'll have the kind of schools our children need, and our country needs, in the 21st century. Because it all starts with a teacher like Mr. Moore.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

[Footer icon]

[White House icon] [Help Desk icon]

To comment on this service,
send feedback to the Web Development Team.