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Clinton Challenges Nation to Improve Math and Science Education

On March 16, President Clinton President challenged public officials, business leaders, universities, schools, teachers, parents, and students to take the steps necessary to boost student achievement in math and science. Included: The text of his speech.

On March 16th, 1998, President Clinton convened leaders from government, business, education, and the scientific community to discuss how the nation should respond to recent findings from the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) showing that U.S. 12th graders lagged below the international average in science and math. This followed earlier findings showing U.S. 4th graders near the first in the world in science and above average in math, with U.S. 8th graders slipping to slightly above average in science and below average in math. The President called on the nation to move forward on his plan to improve American education and issued new challenges to boost student achievement in math and science. He also announced new on-line math and science help for parents, teachers, and students.


Improved math and science education is critical to prepare our students and nation for the 21st century. President Clinton challenged public officials, business leaders, universities, schools, teachers, parents, and students to take the steps necessary to boost student achievement in math and science.

Reducing out-of-field teaching. The President challenged states to reduce the percentage of math and science teachers without a major or minor in their subject area. The average K-8 math teacher takes only three undergraduate math courses. Twenty-eight percent of secondary math teachers lack a major or minor in their subject area, as do 18 percent of secondary science teachers and 55 percent of physics teachers.

Rigorous Tests for New Teachers. To help address this challenge, the President called on states to require all new teachers of math and science to pass challenging tests of math or science knowledge and teaching proficiency. With nearly half of our nation's teaching force to be replaced over the next several years in order to accommodate growing student enrollments and an aging teaching force, raising standards of teaching now can boost the quality of our schools for decades.

A Call to Action for Schools, Students, and Parents. The President also challenged schools to offer and students to take tough math and science courses in middle school and high school. Just a quarter of U.S. students take algebra before high school, and only 25 percent of U.S. high school students take physics. The President also called on parents to insist that states and school districts provide ways of showing how children are doing compared to national standards and international benchmarks. Today parents have no way of finding out how their children do compared to the international standards in TIMSS. The President called on the nation to take the steps necessary to boost student achievement in math and science and encouraged young people with proficiency in math and science to consider careers in teaching.


The recent TIMSS findings demonstrate the importance of President Clinton's bold plan to improve American education and boost student achievement in math, science, and other academic subjects.

Voluntary National Standards and Tests in Math and Reading. In his 1997 State of the Union Address, President Clinton challenged every state to adopt high national standards and to test every 4th grader in reading and 8th grader in math to make sure these standards are met. Rigorous 8th grade math testing can help make sure that middle school students are prepared to succeed in tough math and science courses in high school. Voluntary national tests are being developed under the control of the bipartisan, independent National Assessment Governing Board.

Smaller Classes with Well-Prepared Teachers. President Clinton is proposing to help local schools provide small classes with well-prepared teachers in the early grades. The new initiative will help hire an additional 100,000 well-prepared teachers and reduce class size in grades 1-3 to a nationwide average of 18. The President is also proposing support for training teachers in math, science, and technology and for recruiting quality teachers into poor schools and high-need subjects like math and science.

Modern School Buildings to Improve Student Learning. For students to learn and to compete in the global economy, schools must be well-equipped and they must be able to accommodate smaller class sizes. That's why President Clinton is proposing federal tax credits to pay interest on nearly $22 billion in bonds to build and renovate public schools.

Education Opportunity Zones: Ending Social Promotion and Fixing Failing Schools. The President's budget contains support for urban and rural school districts undertaking tough reforms including ending social promotion and fixing failing schools. This initiative would help students meet promotion standards at selected grades, help turn around failing schools, and expand parental choice among public schools.

Technology for Our Schools and Rigorous Math and Science Courses for Our Students. The President's plan would ensure that all our children get access to the "information superhighway." His "High Hopes" plan would support partnerships to help low-income students get access to the rigorous math and science courses needed to prepare them for college. The President's budget also contains $60 million to improve math and science curriculum and teaching in middle schools.


President Clinton announced two new on-line resources developed by the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies.

Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE) Web-site. A new Web site is available today to connect teachers, parents, and students to teaching and learning resources in math, science, and other subject areas from NASA, the Energy Department, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies. The address is

The TIMSS On-Line Challenge. The U.S. Department of Education will launch this fall a Web site that puts TIMSS math and science problems on-line. This will enable parents to give a quiz to their children, learn what their children should know in math and science to be internationally competitive, and learn how their children are doing compared to students from other countries.


TIMSS showed that U.S 12th graders scored among the lowest of 21 nations in general math and science. Performance of U.S. 12th graders in advanced math and physics courses also lagged behind other nations. The 12th grade findings completed a multi-year study showing U.S. 4th graders near the first in the world in science and above average in math, with U.S. 8th graders slightly above the international average in science and below the international average in math.

While other tests (including the National Assessment of Educational Progress) show that U.S. student achievement is improving, TIMSS makes clear that these improvements are not rapid enough to keep pace with other nations in an increasingly global economy.


THE PRESIDENT: First of all, let me welcome you all here. Let me thank you for coming. Many have made an extraordinary effort to come from a long way away, and I thank you so much for that.

I want to make some brief opening remarks and ask Secretary Riley and Mr. Schmidt make some remarks, and then we'll just begin the roundtable. And I want to hear from everyone before we go.

Earlier this month our country received a wake-up call. Our high school seniors ranked near the bottom in math and science achievement when compared with their peers around the world, according to the TIMSS test results. This must be a call to action for all of us. That's why I've asked some of America's top educators, advocates, political and business leaders here today, to mobilize our schools to raise standards, demand accountability, and specifically, to strengthen math and science education and performance all across America.

A little over 40 years ago -- a lot of us are old enough to remember when America got another wake-up call -- when the Soviets had just launched Sputnik and beat us into space. Then President Eisenhower said, if we were going to conquer the heavens we had to strengthen math and science education here on Earth. Because we answered the call, in the years since we have landed on the moon, roved the surface of Mars, launched countless satellites that have revolutionized the way we live, work and play here on Earth. And we're preparing to put the international space station into work.

The young people Eisenhower inspired are now fueling America's new economy. They work at NASA, at NIH, in high-tech labs in Silicon Valley, in Wall Street boardrooms, in classrooms all across our nation. Now we have to strengthen math and science education for a new generation of Americans in the 21st century. We know that for our time we need a revolution in high standards, accountability, and rising expectations. We know the revolution works. A report released just today by the University of Minnesota has found that charter schools are meeting and sometimes exceeding their promises to raise academic achievement. Now we have to spread these lessons throughout the educational system.

In our balanced budget I proposed a comprehensive strategy to help make our schools the best in the world -- to have high national standards of academic achievement, national tests in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math, strengthening math instruction in middle schools, providing smaller classes in the early grades so that teachers can give students the attention they deserve, working to hire more well-prepared and nationally certified teachers, modernizing our schools for the 21st century, supporting more charter schools, encouraging public school choice, ending social promotion, demanding greater accountability from students and teachers, principals and parents.

And we have to bring more mentors into our middle schools to inspire our students to prepare for college early. I am pleased that this strategy is already moving forward in many, many states; that our nation's governors and state legislators of both parties are choosing to make a solid commitment to boost education, to advocate high standards, and to take advantage of this era of budget surpluses and good times to make our schools better so that we'll have even better times in the future. We'll work hard with Congress to make sure this plan becomes a reality. I urge the Senate to take the first step by passing the proposals to modernize schools this week.

In this era of fiscal discipline, we have to recognize that government alone cannot do the job. We also have to mobilize all other Americans in a concerted effort, especially let me say, on the topic we're here today -- math and science education. States have to make sure that every math and science teacher is qualified to do the job. We have to insist that they've majored in their subjects in college.

Today nearly one of every five science teachers, more than a quarter of all math teachers, more than half of all physics teachers has neither majored in, nor minored in the subjects they teach. The typical elementary and middle school teacher has taken just three undergraduate math courses. We can, and we must, do better.

So I call on the states to require new math and science teachers to pass high-level competency tests in their subjects before getting licensed. The requirements must be vigorously enforced. School districts simply mustn't continue hiring people who don't meet the standards. Students must challenge themselves and take the most advanced math and science courses they can. Again, this is a big problem. Among college-bound seniors, half have not taken physics or trigonometry. Three-quarters have not taken calculus. Around the world, middle students are learning algebra and geometry. Here at home, just a quarter of all students take algebra before high school.

Our children must not glide through school without gaining these important skills. Business has to help us get the message out, too, so that they will hear that young people who study and do well will do better in the future.

Today I want to say that later this year I intend to convene a group of business leaders specifically to discuss ways that they can contribute to raising student performance across our country. Universities can also help by strengthening their programs in math and science teaching so that more students will consider teaching as a career, and so that our newest teachers will be better prepared than ever for the classrooms of the 21st century.

Finally, we need help from our parents, who should encourage and insist on teachers and students who do their best. I think it is profoundly important that parents keep up not only with the progress of their children in the courses they're taking, but also in whether they're taking the right courses.

If we all do our part, I'm convinced this is a challenge that we can clearly meet.

Springbrook High School Silver Spring, Maryland March 16, 1998

Source: U.S. Department of Education

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