Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion on Education
The President. Let me welcome all of you here to the East Room of the White House today for this very important announcement and this important roundtable. And by extension, let me welcome Mayor Susan Hammer and the CEO of Netscape, Jim Barksdale, and others who are with us via satellite today from the Stonegate School in San Jose, California.
In my State of the Union Address, I said that the greatest step our country must take to prepare for the 21st century is to ensure that all of our people have the best education in the world, that every 8-year-old can read, that every 12-year-old can log on to the Internet, that every 18-year-old can go on to college, that every American adult can continue to learn for a lifetime.
But the most important thing of all is that we know whether we are learning what we need to know. And that requires something America has put off doing for too long, the embracing of a genuine commitment to national standards of learning for our young people. I have challenged every State to embrace national standards and to participate in 1999 in an examination to see whether our children have met those standards for fourth graders in reading and eighth graders in math.
Today, America's largest school system and leaders of its most forward-leaning high-tech industries have joined together to put California alongside Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, and our military schools in the support of the national standards movement. I thank Delaine Eastin. I thank the 200 high-tech executives who have supported this. And I thank them for their pledge not just to announce their support today but to write every Governor, every school board, every State education leader and ask them to participate in the standards crusade.
It has been less than 2 months since I called on every State to adopt high national standards. Today, with California's endorsement, States and school systems that educate nearly 20 percent of America's schoolchildren are now on the road to measuring their students against those high standards. If any State understands the challenges we face in the 21st century in the global economy in an information age, it is surely California, our gateway to much of the world and the home of many of the industries that will shape our future.
California and all of you who are here today and all of those in California today have given powerful new momentum to the crusade for national education standards—education and business leaders, Republicans and Democrats and independents, people all committed to seeing politics stop at the schoolhouse door and America have no stopping place in tomorrow's world.
I want to thank everyone who has made this possible. I thank especially Secretary Riley for his work and the Vice President in particular for the work he did to put this group together today. This is a very, very happy day for me personally but, more importantly, for the cause of educational advancement and reform and standards.
And now I'd like to call on the California Superintendent of Public Education, Delaine Eastin, for any remarks you might like to make.
[At this point, the discussion began.]
The President. Jim, it's President Clinton. I'd like to thank you for being there and thank Congresswoman Lofgren and my good friend Mayor Susan Hammer.
I'd like to ask you to amplify just a moment on a point that John Doerr made when he was introducing you, when he pointed out that just the 240 companies who have endorsed this national standards movement today have created 130,000 jobs in the last 4 years and have thousands of job openings now waiting to be filled.
We have tried very hard in this administration to create a climate and an environment and to pursue policies which would permit us to increase the number of high wage, good future jobs so that we could raise incomes, average incomes, in America again.
I think it would be helpful if you would just state explicitly from your point of view what the relationship is in having citizens, young people educated according to high national standards and filling those jobs with young Americans and raising our average income, because I think that's one thing the American people haven't clearly focused on, the extent to which our ability to create high-wage jobs in the end depends upon our ability to produce people who can fill those jobs once they're created. And I wish you would talk about it just a little bit.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Thank you very much. Let me just make one other brief point about this and put it against one of our other big national challenges, our effort to reform the welfare system and to limit the amount of time that able-bodied people spend on public assistance and to maximize their movement into the work force.
You have this unbelievable situation today where in some of our cities—St. Louis and Chicago come to mind because we've had studies there in the last 18 months—there are six to nine applicants for every entry level job that opens up. And yet, you look around the country and there are tens of thousands of the kinds of jobs that the industries represented in this room and out in San Jose have opened and made available right now that cannot be filled.
So it is obvious, to take this one step further, that we'll never really answer the whole welfare reform challenge and move people from dependence to independence until we can demonstrate to employers that we have educated all of our young people, even our poorest young people, at a level of international acceptance.
I'd like to go on now and talk to two people here who really represent our children and give them a chance to make a couple of remarks. Let me begin with Carmen Cortez, who is a first grade teacher from the Olive Street School in Porterville, California. She's been a reading specialist and an elementary school teacher for 30 years—I find that hard to believe—[laughter]—but—ever since she was 8 years old she's been an elementary school teacher. [Laughter] And she's a member of California's statewide coordinating committee on standards.
I'd like to begin by asking her the question that we often get asked, which is that—is it realistic for us to expect that we can set standards that are at once high and meaningful and secondly, that can be achieved by virtually all of our students in a country with such a diverse student body, not only diverse racially and ethnically but also economically? Is that realistic? And I'd like for you to talk about it based on your experience.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Let me just—I'd like to emphasize what Carmen said—the most important thing she said. Keep in mind now, here's somebody who has been teaching our children for 30 years. I am so sick and tired of people assuming on the front end that children's learning is limited because of their racial, their ethnic, or their income background or whether they live in some poor rural area or some isolated inner city.
Their conditions create greater hurdles for them. We should clear away the hurdles, but we should not lower our expectations. When we lower our expectations of those kids, we're selling them down the river; we are not doing our jobs as adults. It is our job to be the shepherds for their future, to bring them into a better future.
To me, the most important thing that's been said here today by anybody is a person who has been an educator for 30 years saying that "When I have high expectations for these children, I find that they meet those expectations." And I think that's important.
I think we ought to hear from the parent who is here, too. We have Lydia Perez-Howard, parent of a third grade daughter who attends Cleveland Elementary School in Pasadena, California. She's the vice president of the PTA and active on the school advisory council and the neighborhood strengthening project. And I'd like to ask her to talk about how she feels about this whole standards movement and her daughter's future and how it will affect it.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Let me say why I think Lydia's comments are so important. In the end, whatever we do in the schools needs to be reinforced by what the children hear at home. And we learned a lot over the last, oh, 12 or 13 years, since the issuance in 1984 of the "Nation At Risk" report.
But one of the most important things that I learned in all these years I was working as a Governor on standards and educational improvement is that in the United States there were too many parents who tended to believe that their children's performance in school was largely due to their income or their racial or ethnic background or whether English was their first language. And in a lot of other cultures that we're competing with, they believe their children's performance in school is directly related to effort and the level of support they get from the parents at home.
And it seems to me that you can have a debate if you want about what you think is right, or is it 90 percent one and 10 percent the other, but there is only one attitude likely to produce positive results for the children, and that is to believe that what children learn is largely the function of effort and the level of support they get in the home. So when the parents say something like what Lydia has said, it seems to be profoundly important.
The other thing I'd like to say—you say you came up in the schools of the Bronx in a different time. It put me in mind of something else that's especially important to California. This country has been built by generation after generation of immigrants who came to this country and believed that their children would do better than they did and would fully participate in the American dream. I would argue there were two elements to that: One is the immigrants worked like crazy, saved, and gave their kids a better life; second, their kids had a good education and were assimilated into the mainstream of American life.
We are becoming an ever more pluralistic society. And more and more of our immigrants are people who desperately need not only for the working age parents to have the chance to get good jobs and build a good future but for those children to have that future, too. We cannot become the country we ought to become, as a multiethnic, multiracial democracy in a world that will value that enormously, in the absence of a good educational system.
And again I say, having teachers who believe in high expectations and having parents who believe that if their schools work properly and have high expectations, they will support that and they will tell their children that what they learn will be a function of effort more than IQ, those two things will count more than anything else the rest of us will do. Then all of us have to do is show up, do our part, and create the system that will enable those kinds of teachers, those kinds of parents, and those kinds of children to succeed. So I think we ought to give our teacher and our parent another hand. I think they did a great job. [Applause]
I'd like to ask the Secretary of Education, who has been my friend and colleague on this for nearly 20 years now, to talk a little bit about what we're doing to try to work with the States to get the standards movement up and going and, specifically, to prepare the fourth grade reading and the eighth grade math examination by 1999 so that it meets the standards that Delaine Eastin and others in other States would expect it to.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. I'd like to leave everyone with this one final point—and then I'd like to call on the Vice President to close the meeting— to tie something together that Secretary Riley talked about and what Lydia Perez-Howard and what Carmen Cortez said about the students, and obviously what Delaine said earlier, and going back to something Jim Barksdale said about how everything that he's involved in, he has to meet standards.
I think it's important to make a distinction over and over again about what the difference is between what we propose here and what tests are in the classroom normally. We are striving for what you would call in manufacturing a zerodefect result, which means we want to set high standards that will guarantee 100 percent of the children, whether they graduate at the top of their class or at the bottom or somewhere in the middle, that they'll still have what they need to go on with their lives and make a success of it and to make our country strong. Which means that, in a given class, a student could make the highest grade in the class, but if the student doesn't achieve the standards, it's still not good enough. And in another class, even a student who might have the lowest grade in the class would still be a good, successful, performing learner and know that he or she can have a good future and has been given a good education. That is the important thing.
Furthermore, these examinations are not being given to label anybody a failure but to give everybody a benchmark on which they can build to success. Of course, not everybody will do well the first time they're given, but we have to know what the benchmark is. We have to know what the roadmap is.
But I just want to emphasize that again. If parents have the attitudes that we heard from Lydia, if teachers have the attitude we heard from Carmen, and States have the leadership that we heard from Delaine, from John Doerr, from all the folks out in San Jose today, we can achieve virtually a zero-defect society from an educational point of view and give our children the future they need. And especially States that are on the cutting edge of the future, both in terms of being highly pluralistic and having those new jobs of tomorrow, places like California, will be the greatest beneficiaries.
So I think it's important that we go out there and talk about this, so that everyone understands exactly what we mean. These are different from what most people think of as classroom tests, and we need to hammer that home. We believe all these kids can clear the bar, and we're determined to see that they do it.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:48 p.m. in the East Room at the White House, with a satellite connection to a group of educators and high-tech corporation chief executive officers meeting in San Jose, CA. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Susan Hammer of San Jose, CA; and John Doerr, partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield, and Byers.
William J. Clinton, Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion on Education Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/223594