[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 24, 1997]
[Pages 1420-1424]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 1420]]

Remarks to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 
Honoring Board-Certified Master Teachers
October 24, 1997

    Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I have to say the Vice 
President always says when--we have this arrangement, he always says, 
thank you for the standing ovation. [Laughter] I'd also like to thank 
the United States Marine Band for being here for us today. I know you 
enjoyed them very much. You know, when I have to leave this job, in 3 
years and a couple of months, I'll miss a lot of things about Washington 
and the White House--a few things I won't. [Laughter] But I'll really 
miss the Marine Band. It's a great honor to be around them every day. 
They're terrific.
    I want to thank Rebecca Palacios for her introduction and for her 
lifetime of dedication. We wanted her up here because she stands for all 
of you. And she first came to my attention when she spoke at Al 
Shanker's memorial service, and I know that a lot of you feel as I do. I 
wish he were here today. He'd be tickled to see this crowd and the 
progress of this endeavor.
    I'd like to thank Congressman Bob Etheridge and our good friend 
Senator Jim Jeffords from Vermont for being here and for the support we 
have received in the Congress with the leadership that they have given, 
and others, to this endeavor.
    I thank Secretary Riley. You know, I got a little nostalgic when 
Dick Riley was up here talking--Governor Hunt and Governor Riley and 
Governor Clinton--we've been at this since the 1970's. And none of us 
are very young anymore, and we're a little beat up, but it's been, I 
must say, one of the great treasures of my life to be friends with these 
two great leaders, to get to know their wives and their families, and to 
feel like we were giving a lifetime to this endeavor of advancing 
education. And I agree with Jim Hunt, Dick Riley is the best Secretary 
of Education we've ever had, and I thank him for that.
    Governor Hunt, I thank you for your leadership yesterday at the 
first-ever White House Conference on Child Care that Hillary and I 
sponsored, and I thank you for what you're doing in North Carolina to 
get a systematic approach to giving all of our children in their 
preschool years the best preparation and support they can have. I thank 
you for 10 years at the helm of this extraordinary organization. Because 
of the work that you and the national board, with support from the 
business community and from States all across America, have done, more 
teachers are now being challenged to fulfill their greatest potential, 
and just as important, they're finally being rewarded for doing so. And 
I thank you for that.
    And thank you, Barbara Kelley, for stepping in to fill Governor 
Hunt's shoes. You've worked tirelessly to improve education in Maine, 
and you've served the board well as vice chair. And I must say, you've 
got quite a crowd up for your first day on the job here. 
Congratulations. I'd also like to thank James Kelly and Sarah Mernissi 
for their leadership on the board.
    Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to take just a couple of minutes and 
try to put what you're doing here in this truly historic endeavor into 
the larger context of the journey that your Nation is on. Six years ago 
this month, when I began to seek the Presidency, I did it because I 
thought we had to change course, become more focused, more united, and 
more energetic if we were going to succeed in preparing America for the 
21st century. And I had a simple but, I think, quite profound vision of 
what I wanted our country to be like when we crossed that next divide.
    With all of our challenges, all of our difficulties, and all of our 
diversity, I want this to be a country where the American dream is alive 
for everybody who is responsible enough to work for it. I want America 
to still be the world's leading force for peace and freedom and 
prosperity. And I want us to be able to reach across all the lines that 
divide us, to make one America.
    Together, we've made a lot of progress: The economy is growing; 
crime is down; the social fabric is mending. That happened in no small 
part, I think, because we underwent as a nation our own educational 
process. We had to think anew and learn anew about what the role of 
Government is and what we ought to be doing in all of these areas that 
are important to us.

[[Page 1421]]

    I had listened for years as a Governor to a debate here about 
whether the Government should do nothing or try to do everything, 
neither of which made any sense to me in my own life. So we've given 
America a smaller and more focused Government that focuses on giving 
people the tools and creating the conditions to make the most of their 
own lives.
    I also believed that we had to go beyond a lot of other kind of 
false choices. In the economy, the argument used to be, are we going to 
do something about the deficit, in which case we won't do anything else, 
or are we going to just keep spending and betray the future of all the 
children in the audience? We have shown that you can reduce the deficit 
and balance the budget and still invest in America's children and its 
future, and that is the right approach. [Applause] Thank you.
    On the environment, the debate was, well, if we clean up the 
environment, we'll wreck the economy--in spite of the fact that that 
contradicted all our experiences. So we have energetically embraced the 
proposition that we have to dramatically improve the environment, 
dramatically reduce our greenhouse gases, and we're going to do it and 
grow the economy. When you start new things in an innovative way, you 
create more jobs and more opportunities. Doing the right thing is 
normally something that benefits you economically, and it will here as 
    On crime, I thought there was a totally false debate about people 
who talked tough on the one hand, and people who were genuinely 
compassionate about the circumstances that bred crime on the other. I 
thought we ought to be both tough and compassionate in trying to prevent 
people from getting into trouble in the first place. And that approach 
is working, and the crime rate is dropping.
    On welfare, there was a debate which basically treated everybody on 
welfare on the one hand as if they never wanted to go to work and say we 
ought to impose a lot of requirements on them, and other people who were 
genuinely concerned about the welfare of children of people on welfare 
but never wanted to hold them to higher standards. So we took an 
approach to welfare reform that required everybody to work who can, but 
take care of the children. That's our most important job. And in the 
process our country has learned and grown and gained self-confidence, 
just the way your students do in the class.
    And we are still engaged in this debate here in Washington about 
education. You know, there are those who say that the Federal Government 
should do next to nothing in education and that basically it should be 
left alone. Or some people think it should be abandoned altogether. I 
believe that we have to go beyond either giving up on the one hand or 
giving more money to the status quo on the other. None of you represent 
the status quo. You represent standards, reform, and investment. That is 
the proper path for education in the future and every area.
    I know we've been saying this all our lives, but it is really true 
that the greatest challenge America faces to realizing our entire vision 
is the challenge of giving every child in this country a world-class 
education. If we don't do it, how can we preserve the American dream for 
people who are responsible enough to work for it? There are a lot of 
people today in America--every day I think about all the people out 
there who are willing to work, are willing to work harder, who are 
trapped in circumstances that they find totally unsatisfactory, that are 
difficult for their children, simply because they never got a good 
education to develop their abilities.
    How can we lead the world toward peace and freedom and prosperity if 
we are weak at home because we don't have strength in the minds and 
hearts and spirits and the self-confidence of all of our people? How can 
we have enough sense to overcome all of our diversity and be one 
America, at a time when racial and ethnic and religious tensions are 
causing people to kill each other all over the world, if we don't have 
the education that makes us understand that deep down inside what we 
have in common will always be more important than the things that divide 
us? You are carrying us into the future.
    Now, therefore, in a very fundamental sense, you are at the center 
of America's mission to the 21st century. And you know some things that 
sometimes it seems like we forget here in Washington when you hear these 
debates: Meeting the challenge will not be easy. There is no quick fix. 
There is no single proposal that will magically give all our children 
the education that they need and deserve.
    I might say that I do not believe that a proposal that takes 
resources away from public schools, most of which are already 

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will do anything for the 90 percent of the children who are going to 
remain there. But I would also say, we make a great mistake when we stop 
at the denial. We cannot afford to be in denial. What's that story all 
the children say? ``Denial is not just a river in Egypt.'' [Laughter] We 
know, and you have proved by what you have done, that we all have to be 
impatient. If you believe in the education of all children, if you 
believe in the potential of the public schools, we have to be impatient 
and focused and determined and willing not just to settle for isolated 
successes but to do systematic things.
    That is the genius of the national board. I think, of all the many 
contributions Jim Hunt has made to our public life, when his whole 
career is over, two will stand out: the work he's done on this board, 
and the work he's done in North Carolina to take a systematic approach 
to all children between birth and age 5 to get them ready to go to 
    We must be impatient. We have to change the system for everyone. 
It's got to work for everyone. Isolated examples of success are not 
enough. Therefore, we have to fight to raise standards for students and 
teachers. We ought to give more choice and competition among public 
schools. We ought to equip all of our schools with the latest technology 
and people who know how to use it. [Laughter]
    We ought to empower our parents to take a more active role in their 
children's education. We ought to recognize that people can't succeed in 
school unless our schools, all of them, are safe and disciplined and 
drug-free. We have to do more to bring high-quality teachers to 
difficult, underserved, poor areas, where the children need them the 
most. We ought to make it easier for all schools to reform, to be less 
bureaucratic. If people aren't performing, it ought to be easier for 
them to be moved out. But the most important thing we can do is to train 
and reward the finest teachers in America, to get them and keep them in 
the classroom.
    So that debate is going on here now, and we face a choice. There are 
those of us, like Governor Hunt and our master teachers, who are doing 
all they can to sustain and improve and strengthen public education in 
America. And there are those whose answer is to do nothing or, worse, to 
walk away. It's a choice between those who look at the challenge of 
public education and throw up their hands and those who, like you, roll 
up their sleeves.
    I have called upon all of our people to create an America in which 
every 8-year-old can read, every 12-year-old can log on to the Internet, 
every 18-year-old can go to college, and every American can keep on 
learning for lifetime.
    Let us say one thing here for the record. You and people like you 
all over the country have been working on this for more than a decade, 
and our schools--against all odds and great challenges, our schools are 
getting better. Everybody should know that. They are getting better. We 
are taking in ever more diverse student populations. We are learning 
more about how to deal with each other, and we are getting better 
results. Secretary Riley mentioned North Carolina's results. We are 
getting better results, but only when we are impatient, focused, 
determined, relentless, and systematic in our approach.
    The balanced budget I signed last summer will help us to do this. It 
will throw open the doors of college to everybody who is willing to work 
for it through more Pell grants, 300,000 more work-study slots, 
education IRA's, the historic HOPE scholarship for the first 2 years of 
college, and other tax credits for all higher education. The budget goes 
a long way toward completing our mission to connect every classroom and 
library to the Internet by the year 2000, which I think we're going to 
meet. And I thank you.
    We're fighting to fully fund America Reads, which has already 
involved AmeriCorps volunteers, tens of thousands of college students 
from 800 campuses now, many other people in churches and other volunteer 
groups going into our schools to help tutor individually young children. 
And Congress has taken the first step toward funding that, and I 
appreciate that.
    But all these things will mean little unless the classroom works. 
Ultimately, the magic of education is what goes on in the class, between 
the teachers and the students, hopefully supported at home by the 
parents. That's why we have to set high national standards of academic 
excellence. That's why I'm fighting for these fourth grade reading and 
eighth grade math tests. And I thank Governor Hunt and the other States 
and cities who have supported it.
    Through voluntary national standards, parents and teachers can make 
sure that all their children in all of our schools get the skills they

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need. I thank Governor Hunt again for his leadership here, and I hope he 
can have even more members of the National Governors' Association 
following the lead of the heads of the biggest school districts in the 
country and many city governments all across the country who are doing 
    Again I will say that if there is any attempt in Congress to kill 
this effort at national standards and voluntary testing, I will have to 
veto it.
    So this is the context in which your efforts are working, and we 
have to see it against that. It is the great frontier of our national 
effort to come to grips with all the challenges we face to get this 
country into the 21st century in the shape that we all know it must be 
in. Raising the quality of teaching has to come at the top of the list.
    We all know a single extraordinary teacher can change the lives of 
many students. We all know we should reward excellence in teaching. Now 
we know that national board certification defines excellence in 
teaching. That's why I've asked the Congress for $105 million over the 
next 5 years to help us get 100,000 board-certified master teachers.
    Now, just think of the difference a master teacher could make if we 
had a master teacher in every single school in America. All of you know 
that one of the things teachers do a good job of is talking. [Laughter] 
In the classroom, in the teachers' lounge, in the halls, before and 
after school, you talk for a living, and you're good at it. If we could 
get at least one master teacher in every single school building in 
America, then all the process through which you go, you will be, without 
even thinking about it and sometimes consciously, imparting to the other 
teachers, to the principals, changing the culture of our schools in ways 
that no one could write out a form book and predict. But we know if we 
can get enough of these master teachers, we will have a critical mass 
that will then impact on all the other teachers, on the teaching 
environment, and therefore, on the learning of all of our children.
    That is why I asked for the $100 million. That's why I want 100,000 
board teachers. I do not want to stop until we've got a master teacher 
in every single school building in the United States of America--
eventually, I hope, in every classroom--but every school building. We 
should not stop until we do that.
    That's the sort of thing that Jim Hunt has visualized all this time, 
a system--not isolated successes, a system--where we give our teachers, 
our schools, our children a chance to be the best they can be. That is 
what we have to do, and that is our mission. And that's why we've got to 
get this through the Congress and why I'm so glad to see Senator 
Jeffords here. And I know that he stands for a lot of other people who 
will do it.
    I must say, when Congressman Etheridge gave up being head of the 
North Carolina education effort to come to Congress, he didn't really do 
that--he's basically got two jobs in one--and I think he's going to ask 
Governor Hunt for a second salary to support it. [Laughter]
    Now, let me also say to you that you're getting a lot more support 
around the country now in local school districts and in businesses who 
are stepping up to the challenge. Last month, the Los Angeles Unified 
School District and the United Teachers of Los Angeles agreed to reward 
board-certified teachers with a 15 percent raise. You know, one of 
Clinton's laws of politics is when someone--people always say in 
Washington, ``That's not a money problem.'' When they say that, they're 
talking about someone else's problem. [Laughter] It does matter. We must 
pay people more if they're doing well, if they're better prepared, and 
if they're willing to stand out and stake out a new frontier, and it's 
    Just a few days ago the McGraw-Hill company joined forces with the 
New York City Board of Education and the United Federation of Teachers 
there, along with New York universities to prepare more teachers for 
board certification. These things are crucial to our success. We can 
appropriate the money here. We can help you implement it. But we've got 
to have friends out there who believe in it and then people who will 
reward the teachers once they get the certification. So I want every 
State, every school board, every business to help more of our teachers 
become master teachers.
    As the national board continues to define what teachers should know 
and be able to do, I also hope you will make even more use of effective 
technology. Every teacher should be as comfortable with a computer as a 
chalkboard. You should not be as technologically challenged as I am. 

[[Page 1424]]

    And finally, let me say I think we have to do more to attract more 
young people into teaching as a career, particularly where the kids need 
it the most. I have called upon Congress to support a $350-million 
scholarship program modeled on the National Medical Service Corps. Those 
of us who come from rural States can all remember how blessed our rural 
communities have been over the last several years, the last couple of 
decades, by the doctors who were educated in medical school with the 
National Medical Service Corps and then went out to some place where 
people had never seen a doctor for years or where the town doctor had 
died and no other young people would go and how many people were helped 
by that. We need to do that for our inner-city schools, for our rural 
schools, for our poorest children.
    This proposal would basically give a talented young person an 
education in exchange for a promise to teach children growing up in our 
most underprivileged communities. It will strengthen teacher training in 
colleges that work directly with inner cities and with poor rural 
schools. It is a good idea, and I hope you will help me pass it, because 
the kids out there who have the toughest neighborhoods to live in and 
the toughest obstacles to overcome and the parents in the most difficult 
circumstances, they need the best teachers. They need them, and we ought 
to try to help them get them.
    And finally let me say just a simple thank you for making a decision 
to spend your lives on the future. If you really think about it, most of 
us do things every day where, at the end of the day, we can know that 
the major impact of what we've done comes more or less right after we do 
it. The major impact of what you do will come perhaps after we're not 
even around anymore. You literally live your lives based on a faith in 
the innate dignity and potential of every child that you may never see 
realized. They may go off to some far-distant place and do something, 
and the connection will be broken. But you know what you're doing is 
renewing this country in a constant and profound way. And I think you 
for that.
    Henry Adams once said that ``Our teachers affect eternity. They can 
never tell where their influence stops.'' You will never know where your 
influence stops, but I can tell you, you will know that it always begins 
here in Washington as long as Dick Riley and Jim Hunt and Bill Clinton 
and the people that agree with us have a job to do--[laughter]--have a 
job to do and the energy to do it.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:40 a.m. in a pavilion on the South Lawn 
at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to board-certified 
master teacher Rebecca Palacios, who introduced the President; Gov. 
James B. Hunt, Jr., of North Carolina; and Barbara Kelley, chair, James 
A. Kelly, president and chief executive officer, and Sarah ``Sally'' 
Mernissi, vice president for government relations, National Board for 
Professional Teaching Standards.