Launches Quality Teacher Initiative
Eden Prairie High School
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
March 4, 2002
3:12 P.M. CST
Thank you for that warm welcome. It's nice to be here at the home of the Screaming
Eagles. (Applause.) They tell me you've got a good football team. (Applause.)
And a good High Pom Squad. (Applause.)
But I'm really not interested in talking about athletics. (Applause.) I'm here
because of the achievements, the academic achievements of the students, the
quality of the teaching and the involvement of the parents. (Applause.) I'm
here because this is one of America's finest public schools. (Applause.)
I believe strongly in the hope and promise of the public school system all across
America. And I know how important it is to thank our teachers; to thank those
who come to your classrooms every day; to wish them the best; and to herald
such a noble and important profession for the future of our country. I'm here
to talk about teaching and its responsibilities and how our country can do a
better job of supporting America's teachers. I know -- look, I am sure a lot
of you are out there saying, the guy is still talking about teaching. I really
get tired of seeing my teacher -- (laughter) -- particularly at test time. (Laughter.)
Trust me, you're going to miss your teachers. They're an important part of your
life. And they're an important part of our country's future. (Applause.)
I just had a meeting with a group of teachers from all over the area, and I
want to thank them for being there to share some thoughts about how to make
sure the school systems work as good as they possibly can. I want to thank Jeff,
your school's principal, for, gosh, opening up this huge facility and inviting
so many people here. I want to thank the Superintendent of Schools, Bill Gaslin.
I want to thank my friend, Mark Yudof, from the University of Minnesota, who
understands that -- (applause.) About seven people appreciate you, Mark. (Laughter
I want to thank -- the reason Mark -- I want to herald Mark is that he understands
that in order for a teacher to be able to teach, the teacher colleges have got
to teach a curriculum that actually works in the classroom. And I appreciate
I want to thank members of the U.S. congressional delegation: Gutknecht and
Kennedy and Ramstad, for being here, as well. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.)
I want to thank my friend, Norm Coleman, former Mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota.
(Applause.) Mary Kiffmeyer, the Secretary of State, is here, as well; thank
you, Mary. (Applause.) And Christine Jax, the Education Commissioner of Minnesota
is here, too. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.)
Before I talk about the importance of education and teaching, I do want to talk
to the students about my desire to defend freedom, to try to put some context
to what's taking place overseas into your life.
You know, I'm sure it must have been troubling for high school seniors to turn
on their TV -- or high school juniors or sophomores, for that matter -- to see
America under attack. When we grew up, the baby boomers and everybody else,
we never really thought we'd be attacked. I mean, the last thing that I entered
my mind when I was getting out of high school in 1964 is that an enemy would
attack America. And, yet, here you are graduating from high school, the first
high school class to ever have seen the 48 contiguous states attacked by an
And you're probably wondering, why would somebody hit us? And it's because we
love freedom. There are people in the world who cannot stand a free society.
There are people who do not believe that you should be able to worship freely.
There are people who do not believe you should be able to speak freely. There
are people who do not believe that young women should be educated. And when
they find a nation that's willing to defend freedom, they try to attack it.
And when they attacked us, they thought we were soft and materialistic. They
thought our nation had no fiber and no courage. They fell prey to images of
a selfish American, a selfish America. And, my, did they make a huge mistake.
(Applause.) Because this nation will defend ourselves and freedom at any price.
It is too precious a gift -- it is too precious a gift for future generations
to give up to terrorists.
You know, I laid out an initiative that said you're either with us or you're
against us; wither you stand with America to defend freedom, so that you can
grow up, and your children can grow up, in a society, in a civilized world that
values individual freedoms. And most nations of the world chose to be with us.
And for that, our nation is grateful.
I also said that if you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if you
try to encourage a terrorist, you're just as guilty as those who murdered thousands
of innocent Americans. And the Taliban has found out exactly what we meant.
I am so proud of our United States military. Many of you who have got relatives
in the military, you need to tell them how proud I am of their service and of
their sacrifice and of their dedication. (Applause.)
We went into Afghanistan not as conquerors, but as liberators. It's hard for
you to believe, I'm certain, that Afghanistan, when it was taken over by the
Taliban -- a government that sponsored terrorism, that allowed al Qaeda killers
to hide and train in their country -- would not allow young girls to go to school.
It's hard for any American to understand how barbaric this regime was. We didn't
go in as conquerors, we went in as liberators. And now women and children are
free from the clutches of these barbaric people. (Applause.)
People say, well, how long is this going to last? And the answer is, for however
long it takes to make sure America is secure. (Applause.) People say, well,
the hard part is over with. And my answer is, no, it's not. We're just beginning
-- as we learned recently that there's an al Qaeda, a group of al Qaeda killers
in a mountainous region in Afghanistan and when we find them bunched up and
we find where they are, you can rest assured the United States and our coalition
are going to hunt 'em down; that these are people that if we allow to go free,
could easily come back and harm the American citizens.
And so we sent teams in and there is some serious combat as I speak, and lives
are lost. And we send our prayers and tears to those whose families have lost
life. But I want to assure the students who are here and the loved ones of those
military, defending freedom is a noble cause and it is a just cause. And so
long as I am the President of the United States, I will pursue those who want
to hurt America and who want to take away our freedoms. (Applause.)
I'm confident that over time, we'll prevail. I'm confident that this mighty
nation has got the patience and the determination and the will to succeed. And
when we do, the world will be better off.
And I'm confident that we can do what we need to do here at home to make sure
every child is educated. It is so important that we achieve that objective.
I was fortunate enough to be the President at a time when the people in Congress
realized that -- maybe with a little bit of my persuasion -- that we needed
to reform our school system. And I signed an historic reform bill. It was one
of those wonderful moments in Washington where a group of us put aside our party
politics -- said, it's okay to be a Republican, it's okay to be a Democrat,
but what's most important is to function on what's best for America. And we
got a bill done. (Applause.)
It's a good piece of education reform that says that in America, we believe
in educating every child -- each and every child. (Applause.) And that we must
bring high hopes and high standards to every school and every neighborhood all
across America. (Applause.)
As a result of this bill, parents will know whether their child or their child's
school is succeeding in meeting that ambitious goal. Because schools will have
to test and publish the results. From now on, teaching reading will be the first
priority of every elementary school in America.
My friend, Phyllis Hunter put it best: the new civil right in America is teaching
every single child to read. (Applause.) And from now on, schools in low income
neighborhoods will have the same high expectations as everybody else. (Applause.)
These reforms were passed in Washington, but the success of the reform will
ultimately come down to the teacher in the classroom. There are of really great
teachers in America. I know you've got a lot of really great teachers here.
(Applause.) But we want to make sure there is a great teacher in every classroom.
And it starts by making sure that teachers coming out of teacher schools know
how to teach the subjects that they're going to take into the classroom. Interestingly
enough, now, about 35 states require new teachers to take an exit exam -- an
entrance exam into the teaching profession to make sure that they can pass the
test in the subject they teach.
Sometimes, the standard is so low that all you have to do is answer half the
questions and you're in. That doesn't make sense to me. And, you know, it doesn't
make sense to good teachers. Teachers want their profession to have the highest
of high standards. And so in order to make sure every school has got a teacher,
we're going to work with the states to make sure that the exit exams -- those
exams for teachers being, going into the teaching ranks, exiting college, have
high standards, that they can pass a test in the subject they're going to teach
and that every teacher be licensed or certified.
Every public school teacher in America must demonstrate competence in his or
her field of instruction. If we want to have a teaching profession that is held
in high regard, we must have confidence in the teacher colleges and those coming
into the teacher ranks that they can do the job expected of them. We owe it
to the parents. And, most of all, we owe it to the students.
We also understand what a good teacher can accomplish in a young life. Our new
economy demands higher and higher skills and good teachers provide those skills.
But it's only one part of the teacher's job. Just as life is more than a race
to the riches -- and life should be more than a race to the riches -- education
is more than a search for skills. Look, you probably have already forgotten
the isosceles triangle or photosynthesis. (Laughter.) But hopefully you did
learn how to try hard and how to work hard, and how to take pride in your work,
exactly what your teachers are teaching you.
You learn to study, and you learn to communicate. And you learn to appreciate
the living truth of history and literature. A good teacher instills a sense
of your own possibilities, along with your willingness to respect other people.
We ask a lot of our teachers. We expect them to teach knowledge and skills.
We expect them to welcome measurement and accountability. We expect them to
have sound character. And we expect them to teach by example.
And the teachers have a right to expect certain things in return. They have
a right to expect every child will come to school ready to learn, and that good
manners and respect for teachers will be taught at home. (Applause.) And that's
the responsibility of moms and dads. After all, a parent is a child's first
teacher. And when the children show up for school, they should already know
the basics of good manners and good discipline.
Teachers are also entitled to expect some things from government. As we raise
the expectations of our schools, we must give our schools the tools to succeed.
As we ask more of our teachers, we must take their side. We must be their allies.
And all of us, all around America, must give them the support they need to do
their jobs. (Applause.)
My administration is supporting teachers and getting the training they need
to raise educational standards. We have appropriated nearly $3 billion made
available to states to recruit, to prepare and to train teachers. That is more
than a 35 percent increase over last year's budget. (Applause.)
This is the greatest federal commitment to quality teachers and principals.
And it's important and it's necessary if we're going to achieve the reforms
inherent in the no child left behind bill. Much of the training will focus on
specific needs, like special education and math and science instruction, and
The truth of the matter is, if we don't teach the children to read, they're
not going to understand math and science. We have got to make sure our elementary
school teachers have the skills and tools necessary to teach every child in
America how to read. (Applause.) And that means starting in pre-school. And
that means making sure that the pre-school teachers know what works.
And that's why I heralded Mark Yudof. Listen, reading is a science. Mark said,
well, explain what you mean by reading is a science. That means teach what works.
We know what works. Some reading programs sound good, but they don't work. Let's
use curriculum that actually works. Phonics works and it needs to be an integral
part of the reading curriculum all around America. (Applause.)
And so one of the things we're doing is setting up a clearing house of the most
recent and reliable information on what works so that districts and teachers
can access information and, if need be, change curriculum so that standards
are met and no children are simply shuffled through the school system because
they may seem to be hard to educate. (Applause.)
So there's money in the budget for training, retention and recruitment. And
we'll also support teachers by welcoming more talent and experience into the
ranks. Over the next decade, school districts will need to hire 2.2 million
teachers. And we must recruit new teachers. And we must remind people, if you're
looking for something to do that will have an incredible impact on people's
lives, think about, when you go to college, getting a teacher's certificate.
Think about going into the classroom. It is such a noble and important profession.
But there are also other ways to attract. For example, I'm a strong supporter,
as is the administration, for a program called Teach for America, which recruits
and trains outstanding college graduates to teach for at least two years in
our neediest public schools. We're increasing funding for a program called Transition
for Teaching, a program that puts professionals, like lawyers and accountants
and scientists, into public school classrooms, and give them the teacher training
I'm also committed to expanding a great program called Troops to Teachers, which
encourages military personnel, upon retirement, to get into the classroom, to
bring the skills they have learned in the defense of the United States to the
children of the United States. These are programs all aimed at recruiting people,
encouraging people, and giving people the skills necessary to enjoy one of life's
most noble professions, teaching children. (Applause.)
My administration will support teachers who are committed to educating disadvantaged
students. Education -- education is the surest way out of poverty. (Applause.)
Children who live in low-income neighborhoods can succeed, absolutely. But they
need people willing to teach them. Many schools in high poverty areas are having
trouble finding -- filling the teacher vacancies. So we'll help them by expanding
student loan forgiveness for teachers willing to teach math, science and special
education in these schools for at least five years.
Right now our government forgives up to $5,000 in student loans. If someone
is willing to teach math, science or special ed in a school that is having trouble
recruiting teachers, then we ought to forgive up to $17,500 in student loans.
I just met with Patrick Pelini. He's an English teacher at Patrick Henry High
School, in Minneapolis. Here's what he said. He said that low-income students
are hungry to be taught. He said that mentoring and teaching students in his
school has been a tremendously gratifying experience for Patrick. Let me tell
you something, this guy is committed. He is a solid citizen of your state. He
is focused and dedicated on making sure every child gets educated. If he had
any student loans, they ought to be forgiven.
But the next Patricks ought to have their student loans forgiven, so that they
end up teaching in these schools where it's having trouble recruiting teachers.
It makes sense, it's good public policy, and if we want to make sure no child
is left behind, let's encourage really bright, smart people to head into those
We will support our teachers by allowing them to enforce discipline in the classrooms.
(Applause.) So behave yourself. (Laughter.)
Albert Shanker said this. He was a great advocate for teachers. He said, the
amount of disruption in our schools is much larger than it needs to be because
it's tolerated. He knew that learning only takes place in an atmosphere of order.
And for the sake of the teachers, we must make sure they're in charge of their
classrooms. And we took a huge step in that direction in the new bill I signed.
And it's because of this -- many teachers are wary of imposing discipline, because
they might be sued. Somebody might file a lawsuit against them. Well, because
of what we call the Teacher Protection law, teachers and principals and other
school professionals can take reasonable actions to maintain order and discipline
in the classroom without the fear of being hauled into court. (Applause.)
We are taking frivolous lawsuits out of the learning process, and empowering
teachers to be able to maintain order in their classrooms. America is going
to be a lot better off for this law I signed. And so will the teaching profession.
One of the interesting initiatives that I hope Congress passes is this one:
Committed teachers often times have to buy supplies for their students out of
their own pocket. The average across the nation is $400 per teacher. And yet
they cannot deduct that from their income taxes. Look, if a business person
can take somebody out to lunch and deduct it, teachers ought to be allowed to
deduct the supplies they purchase for their classrooms. (Applause.)
And finally, I understand that all wisdom isn't in Washington, D.C. As a matter
of fact -- there is some wisdom there. (Laughter.) But if you're interested
in quality education, if you really want to make a huge difference in making
sure the public schools meet the high standards and high objectives, you've
got to trust the local people to make the right decisions for the schools. You've
got to trust the parents and teachers and principals and school board members,
in order to chart the path for excellence. (Applause.)
And part of that means giving school districts and states the flexibility to
spend federal money on what they need the most. Some districts will provide
incentives for new teachers. If you're having trouble attracting a teacher,
you can use your federal monies to attract teachers. Some will want to spend
more money on teacher development. Many districts may want to use it to increase
teacher pay. Flexibility with federal money will help local folks meet the needs
in order to chart the path for excellence, so every child learns. (Applause.)
And so, in Washington, we're working to enhance the professionalism of the teacher
ranks, and in reminding America what a noble profession teaching is. We talk
about teacher training and teacher recruitment and teacher authority and local
control of schools.
I want the teachers here to know how much I respect what you do, and how I appreciate
the effort and care and compassion you show on a daily basis. (Applause.) One
of the young teachers in there said, you know, I decided that I wanted to teach
instead of trying to get rich. That attitude is a fabulous attitude for America.
It's really what I think is going to come out of this attack by the evil people.
I think we're all beginning to take a hard look at the value of life, why we're
here on the face of the Earth.
You know, today we've got a guy named Will Gove with us. Will is right here.
(Applause.) Let me tell you something about Will. Can I say your age? Eighty-three.
(Applause.) World War II vet -- (applause) -- social entrepreneur. Here's a
guy -- I think he said he could sit around a 19th hole drinking martinis if
he wanted to. (Laughter.) Was it martinis or beer? Anyway, instead he builds
soccer fields. Instead, he reads newspaper articles so that blind folks can
get the news. Instead, he is a mentor. Instead, this guy is a soldier in the
army of compassion, which exists all across America. (Applause.)
Will, I want to thank you for your example, for your living example of someone
who puts his heart and soul into making our community a better place; someone
who understands that you ought to love somebody just like you want to be loved
yourself; that a complete life is one that is much greater than simple materialism.
The enemy hit us; they thought we were a materialistic society. But they didn't
know we were made up of Wills. They didn't know, truly, what the fabric of our
country was made out of.
You know, one of the things that I hear a lot of youngsters asking is, what
can I do in the war against terror? What can I do to be a part of my nation's
efforts to defend freedom? Well, let me tell you what you can do. You can make
somebody's life better off. You can walk into a shut-in's house on a daily basis
and say, what can I do to help you. You can mentor a child. You can go to your
church or your synagogue or your mosque, and you can put together a food drive.
You can make somebody's life better.
In order to stand up in the face of evil, you can do something good. It's the
millions of acts of kindness and decency and compassion that define America,
and stand strong in the face of evil. (Applause.)
USAfreedomcorps.gov is a place where you can go if you're interested in serving
somebody greater than yourself, a cause greater than yourself, to help somebody
in need. If you want to figure out some way to enrich your life, think about
being a teacher. Or think about following the example of Will. If you anything
to do something, think about my friend, Mary Copeland, who runs a prayer service,
who understands the importance of faith in people's lives. With faith in people's
lives, you can kick drugs and alcohol, and you can realize a better tomorrow.
What I'm saying to the students is, you're fortunate to live in a great nation
-- a nation not defined by its government, but a nation defined by values that
we hold dear, and a nation defined by the hearts and souls of decent and loving
and caring people.
I'm proud of our country. I'm optimistic of our future. And I'm honored to be
the President of the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. God bless you
all. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)