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Remarks By Al Gore
Low Library, Columbia University Teacher's College

October 9, 1997

There is no question that education is your highest priority; you have chosen to dedicate your lives to inspiring and educating America's children.

But I am here today to talk about why it must be America's highest priority as well—why education is at the heart of everything we must do to prepare this country for the 21st Century.

Today, we face not only a new century, but a new economy. It is an economy driven by information, research, knowledge, and technology. An economy that values the skills and productivity of our people above all else. An economy that holds out the promise of a better life for all Americans—but only if we prepare them for it, and give everyone the tools to make the most of their own lives. Education has always been the key to opportunity in this country.

Today, at the dawn of the global economy and Information Age, giving our children a world-class education is the single best investment we can make in them, and in our common future.

President Rupp was generous in listing the education accomplishments of this Administration. President Rupp, we are busy preparing you a much longer list! In his February State of the Union Address, President Clinton declared education the nation's number one priority and announced a very aggressive ten-point education agenda. Eight months later, we have already achieved a great deal. The largest increase in education in 30 years—and the largest increase in higher education since the G.I. Bill.

We have launched our America Reads initiative, to make sure all children can read independently by the end of the third grade. We are grateful to the large number of volunteer reading tutors quartered right here at Columbia College, and to the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, which is having a nationwide impact—helping public school teachers develop new ways to teach reading to our children.

We are pushing for voluntary, national standards in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math, because we will not achieve excellence until we demand it, and help all our students achieve it. We must do more to rebuild and modernize our schools, because it's hard to lift students up in buildings that are falling down.

We believe every parent should have the power to choose their children's public school, so we are helping to create 3,000 new charter schools—schools formed by teachers and parents, that survive only if they produce results for our children.

At the same time, we reject the risky voucher schemes that would drain precious dollars from our public schools, and the 90 percent of American children who attend them. We need to build up our public schools, not abandon them, and that is why the President has made clear: we will veto wrong-headed vouchers. Public education is the cornerstone of our nation—and we're going to keep it that way.

But for all we are doing—for all we will do—nothing is more important to the future of education than the people who wake up every day—before dawn—and enter the classroom to teach our students. After parents, teachers may be the single greatest force for social good in our country. Many of you know this well, because almost all who choose to be teachers have themselves been blessed with great teachers. And that is why we must do more to respect, honor and support our teachers, and lift them up when others try to tear them down. Our nation simply cannot achieve excellence in education without strong support and sustained investment in our teachers.

Today, we face a special challenge when it comes to America's teachers. Over the next ten years we must recruit, train, and place two million public school teachers to meet the demands made by booming enrollments and new retirements. Two million new teachers. That is more than 50% of our current teaching force. Over the next five years, we must hire 350,000 teachers in high-poverty urban and rural school districts alone.

Today, the Department of Education is releasing a new region-by-region analysis of the number of teachers that will need to be hired over the next ten years, as well as state-by-state analyses of our aging teacher force and the so-called 'baby boomlet' that will soon hit our high schools. The Northeast region will have to recruit 300,000 new teachers over the next ten years, and New Jersey—with the greatest percentage of older teachers of any state in the nation—will have to recruit a higher percentage of its current teaching force than any other state in the Northeast.

That is a great task in itself, but it is even more daunting than it sounds, because—when you're forced to recruit so aggressively—the tendency is sometimes to lower your standards. But our mandate is to raise our standards.

We must make a special effort to bring the best teachers to the communities that need them most.

This July, President Clinton announced a new national effort to attract quality teachers to high-poverty communities, by offering scholarships for those who will commit to teach in those communities for at least three years. I salute Teachers College for getting out ahead of us, and deploying their Peace Corps fellows as teachers in under-represented areas of the city.

Meanwhile, we must do more to ensure that our teachers are prepared to teach to those high standards. We must strengthen teacher preparation programs and we must improve the quality of teaching through partnerships between the public schools and our teacher training institutions.

Again, I commend Teachers College for pioneering the approach that links a Teachers College student, a veteran public school teacher, and a Teacher's College professor in a teaching practicum that benefits all three participants—and ultimately hundreds of students.

At the same time, we are honoring the profession with an initiative that will formalize something we have long known: there are people in this profession who deserve the designation master teacher. If doctors can be board certified, why not teachers? The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards has established a system for recognizing and helping people train toward the designation of master teacher. There are only about 500 of these teachers in America today.

We put enough money in our budget to have 100,000 of them. We want every school in America to have at least one national board certified master teacher. You know the impact one enthusiastic learner can have in the classroom; we want to unleash the positive, infectious impact that one enthusiastic master teacher can have on an entire school.

There is another area of education that is especially important to me, and to the future of our country. As advances in technology open up fresh opportunities for learning and for careers, our teachers must have the technological skill to give their students access to these new media. By the year 2000, more than 60 percent of all jobs in America will require the use of information technology.

Our students must understand it—and that means their teachers must understand it. That is why the President and I are working so hard to connect every classroom and school library to the Internet—and to make sure teachers can use the technology as easily as they use a chalkboard today. As teachers of teachers, you are better positioned than anyone to advance this important goal. We ask for your help.

This month, Congress will answer our challenge and approve over a half a billion dollars in new money for education technology and professional development. And in January, another new program that we fought for will begin making $2.25 billion a year available to schools for connecting classrooms.

This new money allows for exciting new projects using cutting edge technology—like the Eiffel project that involves Columbia's Institute for Learning Technology, which is helping to bring learning technology to New York City schools.

As you can see, fully honoring and supporting our teachers—through better training, better resources, and more active recruitment—is at the core of our education agenda. And inevitably, the more we realize how important your contribution is, the more our demands on you begin to rise.

An example comes from a report released at the White House last week by Secretary of Education Dick Riley and me.

It confirmed what we have known intuitively all along—that children with highly-involved parents are more likely to get A's, stay out of trouble, and keep on course for graduation, regardless of their parents' income, education, race, region, or religion. Unfortunately, there are large numbers of students with neither parent involved. In fact, in a recent survey, one-third of all students said their parents had no idea how they were doing in school. In many cases, that means the teacher is the only adult who is actively involved in that child's education.

That is too great a burden to place on a teacher. And there is only one recommendation I would make to a teacher in those circumstances. Get Help!

On November 5th, I will lead a national teleconference—sponsored by Teachers College and several other graduate schools of education—designed to help teachers involve parents in their children's education. I encourage everyone here to participate. We cannot improve public schools in America without involving more parents; we cannot involve more parents without the help of more teachers.

In closing, I want to thank you for having me here 100 years after the founding of this Columbia University campus—and 110 years after Teachers College was founded to train the teachers of the immigrant poor. Your combined commitment to academic excellence and social justice makes both of you modern and historic models for American higher education.

I look forward to drawing deeply on your leadership and your example as the sun rises on a new century—for Teachers College, for Columbia University, for America, and for the educational opportunity that has always defined this profession, and will shape our nation for centuries to come. Thank you.


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