"To meet the challenges of this new economy with our new society, we have to rely on our old values, but we have to make sure that we manifest them in modern ways. That means our public schools must change. They must teach our children while reflecting the way we work and live now and will work and live in the 21st century....This is about giving people a chance to make the most of that one life. This is about the sure knowledge we have that the rest of us will just be fine, everything is going to work out all right if we give our children the chance to make the most of their lives."
-- President Clinton
January 7, 1999
While we have made enormous strides in providing more and better quality education opportunities for our children over the past six years, we still have much more work to do. Too many public school students still move from grade-to-grade without having mastered the basics. Many schools in depressed communities still fail to give disadvantaged children the tools they need to break their way out of poverty. Nearly a quarter of secondary school teachers do not have college majors -- or even minors -- in the subjects they teach. And too many of our schools are falling apart, have walls too old to be wired for the Internet, or have insufficient space to handle our nearly 53 million school children.
In addition to working to modernize schools and reduce class size, President Clinton has developed a comprehensive education plan to bring accountability to our educational system by ending social promotion, putting quality teachers in the classroom, turning around failing schools, issuing report cards on local public schools, and adopting discipline policies.
Ending Social Promotion
President Clinton has noted that students who are promoted from grade-to-grade without regard to their achievement or their academic preparedness fall even further behind their classmates, and are more likely to lack basic skills upon high school graduation. That is why the President has announced an initiative that would require states and school districts to end social promotion. To ensure that this requirement helps more students succeed, rather than simply increasing the number of students who are held back, states and school districts would be required to show how they will help students meet promotion standards on time by:
· implementing strategies to identify student weaknesses early;
· strengthening learning opportunities in classrooms with clear standards, small classes with well-prepared teachers, and proven instructional methods;
· providing extended learning time for students who need extra help, including after-school and summer school;
· developing a serious action plan with intensive intervention for students who still do not meet the standards so that they can get back on track with their schooling.
Putting Qualified Teachers in the Classroom
Despite research that shows a strong correlation between teacher skills and student achievement many states permit individuals who do not meet minimum standards for certification to begin teaching and many teachers lack even a minor in their main teaching field. Additionally, students in schools with the highest concentrations of poverty -- those who often need the most help from the best teachers -- are most likely to be in classrooms with teachers who are not fully qualified. That is why President Clinton has developed a proposal that will:
· require states to adopt competency tests for new teachers, demonstrating subject matter knowledge and teaching expertise;
· require states to phase out, over five years, the use of teachers with emergency certificates and the practice of assigning teachers to subjects for which they lack adequate preparation;
· provide resources to help states strengthen teacher certification standards, implement competency testing for new teachers, provide training to current teachers, and provide incentives to recruit more highly qualified teachers.
Turn Around Low Performing Schools
President Clinton strongly believes that if schools don't meet the highest standards for our children they ought to be turned around, or shut down. That's why the President's FY 2000 budget contains $200 million to help states identify the schools with the lowest achievement levels and the least improvement, and begin to take corrective action to turn them around within two years, or risk being shut down.
Issue School Report Cards
Too many parents have a tough time getting clear and accessible information about the public schools in their communities. That is why President Clinton has announced an initiative requiring all states to produce annual report cards that are easily understood by and widely distributed to parents and the public, for each school, school district and the state as a whole. The report cards will include information on student achievement, teacher professional qualifications, class size, school safety and other factors that will help parents judge the overall performance of the schools. President Clinton's proposal will help ensure that parents in every state have access to the information they need to determine the quality of their schools and identify areas in which improvement is needed.
Adopt Discipline Policies
In some schools, the breakdown of classroom discipline remains one of the biggest obstacles to learning and one of the greatest concerns for teachers, students, and parents alike. The President's proposal will require states and school districts to adopt discipline policies, such as adopting school uniforms, enforcing truancy laws, and imposing curfews to make sure students can learn and teachers can teach.