[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[October 28, 1997]
[Pages 1439-1442]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at Oscar Mayer Elementary School in Chicago
October 28, 1997

    Thank you very much. Thank you, Evaline, and thank you, Mary. Thank 
you, Maggie Sullivan. Mr. Blitstein, thank you for welcoming me here.

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    I have been officially welcomed. [Laughter] I have my Oscar Mayer 
wiener here. When Hillary was teaching me about Chicago so long ago, we 
learned to sing the Oscar Mayer song. [Laughter]
    Congressman, Mayor, Mr. Chico, Mr. Vallas, Ms. Buckney, Alderman 
Bernardina, Alderman O'Connor, Recorder White. I don't know if my friend 
John Stroger is here or not, but if he is, hello. I am delighted to be 
here today.
    As all of you know, I'm sure, my wife had a wonderful day in Chicago 
yesterday, and her whole family was here. And I was regaled with it last 
night, everything that happened. Chicago is a really special place, and 
the people who are tied to it have this almost psychic energy, I think, 
about what's going on.
    For example, on the way into Chicago, my brother-in-law told me, he 
said, ``I've got good feelings about this.'' He said, ``I even think the 
Bears are going to win.'' [Laughter] I swear he did. So there is 
something quite mystical about all this but also something very 
wonderful. I thank you for letting me come here.
    I wanted to be here today because this school is the embodiment of 
the effort that I have asked Americans to make to prepare our country 
for the 21st century, to make sure we have an America where every person 
who is responsible enough to work for it can live the American dream, 
where we're still strong enough to lead the world for peace and freedom 
and prosperity, and where we look across all of our diversity and come 
together as one America.
    I know today a lot of Americans are focused on the stock market. It 
may be disappointing, but I think it is neither prudent nor appropriate 
for any President to comment on the hour-by-hour or the day-by-day 
movements of the market. I'd like to ask all of us to remember that our 
economy is as strong and vibrant today as it has been in a generation. 
We saw yesterday that our deficit has come down to $22 billion from $290 
billion. That's the lowest since 1970.
    With unemployment and inflation at their lowest levels in two 
decades, businesses and banks healthy and sound, new jobs being created 
every day, our economy is continuing to grow steady and strong. That's 
why we have to feel confident and continue our economic strategy. We've 
got to balance the budget, expand trade, and invest in the education of 
all our people.
    Now, on that last score--in spite of all the economic progress we're 
making, in spite of the fact that crime is down 5 years in a row, that 
we have the lowest percentage of people on welfare we've had since 
1970--millions of people have left the rolls--on education, we know 
we've got a lot more to do to make sure all children receive the world-
class education they deserve to thrive in the information economy of the 
21st century. That's why I've put educational excellence and opportunity 
at the top of America's agenda, and that's why I've come to Oscar Mayer 
school, to thank the mayor, the principals, the teachers, the students, 
the parents, and the people of Chicago for leading this crusade.
    Because of what you are doing, the city that works now has a school 
system on the move. Chicago has shown us that having high expectations 
for our children, setting high standards and holding students 
accountable for them, and above all, making sure we stay at it 
systematically, school-by-school, child-by-child--Chicago has shown us 
that this works.
    By abolishing the destructive practice of social promotion and 
giving all children the chance to learn what they need to know, Chicago 
is leading the way to an educated America in which every 8-year-old can 
read independently, every 12-year-old can log on to the Internet, every 
18-year-old can go on to college, every adult can keep on learning for a 
lifetime. That is the vision I want for every American community, and 
Chicago is leading the way.
    Last summer, I signed into law the historic Balanced Budget Act, 
which will help to bring us closer to these goals. It will open the 
doors to college for everyone who is willing to work for it, through 
more Pell grants and work-study positions, better student loans, tax-
free education IRA's, the HOPE scholarship, and other tax credits for 
all forms of education after high school. We're also well on our way to 
putting computers in all our classrooms by the year 2000 and hooking 
them up to the Internet.
    But none of it will matter if our children don't master the basics. 
That's why I'm fighting to bring our America Reads program to every 
community in the country, gathering an army of volunteers led by our 
AmeriCorps young people to go in and offer to tutor one-on-one all 
children who are having trouble reading. Today, we already have 800 
colleges, tens of thousands of students who are moving into our schools 
and supporting our children in this way.

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    I'm also fighting to introduce more choice and competition into our 
public schools and to establish thousands of charter schools within the 
public school network so people, where they need it, can actually 
fashion schools designed to meet the special needs of special 
    I want to support communities in making our schools places of 
learning and values, not violence and disorder. And I applaud what your 
principal said about the character education program here. We ought to 
have that in every school in the United States. And I think we have to 
do more to empower parents to take an active role in their children's 
education. I always love to come to a school where a parent and a 
student talk, and I was glad to see them both doing such a good job 
today. Yes, give them a hand. That's good. [Applause]
    But you can do all this and you still have to have high 
expectations, high standards, and some accountability, because people 
have to be working toward a goal and they have to know what the goal is. 
That's why I've worked so hard for the concept of academic standards in 
the basics that we say should apply to every child in America, and to 
establish voluntary tests to measure the students' performance, 
beginning with fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math. This will 
give our parents and our teachers the assurance that their children have 
mastered the basics. This will let every employer know that a diploma 
means something, a job applicant can read a manual, tally a check, 
analyze and solve a problem, and become a dependable employee.
    I want to thank the mayor for his early support of national 
standards, and I thank the city of Chicago for joining with 14 other 
major American cities for pledging to make sure their students meet 
them. This is a truly groundbreaking development. If anyone had told any 
of us who had been working for 20 years in the area of school 
improvement 10 years ago that 15 of the biggest cities in America would 
be leading, not bringing up the rear but leading the fight for higher 
standards for our children, recognizing that our poorest children and 
the kids that grow up in the toughest neighborhoods are the ones who 
need the standards the most, no one would have believed it. This is an 
astonishing, positive development, and you should all be very proud of 
    I can remember a few years ago when the only news those of us who 
didn't live in Illinois got about the Chicago school system was the 
annual strike. [Laughter] I can remember we used to see a picture of the 
Governor's daughter in his office, waiting for the strike to be over, 
hanging around with her dad. And I now see what has happened: A whole 
people, led by a strong mayor and dedicated educators, have rejected low 
test scores, high drop-out rates, students earning diplomas they 
couldn't read, and instead have demanded results from their principals, 
their teachers, their schools, and most importantly, the students, 
letting them know they can't move on to the next grade unless they know 
what they're supposed to know from the grade they're finishing. You've 
strengthened curricula, renovated buildings, retrained teachers, 
expanded preschool education, kept schools open longer in the summertime 
to give children who need it extra help.
    I'd like to say here, for the rest of America that might be watching 
this today, something that you have taught us: Ending social promotion 
does not put children down; it gives us a chance to lift all children 
up. We are not punishing children by making sure they know what they 
need to know and that when they move from grade to grade, it means 
something. And we don't do anyone, especially our poorest children in 
our toughest neighborhoods, a favor by giving them a pass on high 
standards. All of our children can succeed, and they deserve a chance to 
do it, even, if all else fails, repeating a grade.
    You know, people used to say that asking a child to repeat a grade 
was too high a price to pay for learning because of the damage to self-
esteem. But we know that children develop in different ways at different 
times. And we know that while a year seems like an eternity to an 8-
year-old child or a 16-year-old child, when you're 50 it seems like 
nothing. [Laughter]
    I care a lot about the self-esteem of the American people. But I 
would ask you to think about the thousands of Americans who are sitting 
in GED classes today, struggling in literacy programs, standing in 
unemployment lines, who can tell you there is nothing more damaging to 
self-esteem than wanting a job and not being able to get one; wanting to 
get an improvement, a promotion, a raise, and not having the skills 
necessary to get it. And if we adults send our children the right 
messages now, their self-esteem will not be harmed by an expression of

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love and hope for their future that prevents that sort of problem for 
them later on.
    I want what is happening in Chicago to happen all over America. I 
challenge every school district to adopt high standards, to abolish 
social promotion, to move aggressively to help all students make the 
grade through tutoring and summer school, and to hold schools 
accountable for results, giving them the tools and the leadership and 
the parental involvement to do the job.
    Today I am directing the Department of Education to share promising 
approaches to improving low-performing schools, such as those that 
Chicago has developed, with people all across America. And I'm directing 
the Department of Education to strengthen its own efforts to help 
districts use the Federal money that we have now to transform schools 
that aren't performing into world-class learning centers.
    There is nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's 
right with America. I said that in my first Inaugural; I see it again 
today. If you did it here, it can be done everywhere. If it's happened 
to one child, it can happen to every child. What is working in Chicago 
must blow like a wind of change into every city and every school in 
America. We owe it to our kids, and because you have done it, you've 
given us the courage and the conviction to believe we can do it for all 
of our children.
    Thank you. Stay with it. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:34 a.m., in the gymnasium. In his 
remarks, he referred to Evaline Medina, fourth-grade student who 
introduced the President, and her mother, Mary Medina; Maggie Sullivan, 
sixth-grade teacher, and Robert Blitstein, principal, Oscar Mayer 
Elementary School; Representative Rod Blagojevich of Illinois; Mayor 
Richard M. Daley of Chicago; Gery J. Chico, president, reform board of 
trustees, Paul Vallas, chief executive officer, and Cozette Buckney, 
chief education officer, Chicago Public Schools; Charles R. Bernardina, 
alderman, 43d ward; Patrick J. O'Connor, alderman, 40th ward; Jesse C. 
White, Jr., Cook County recorder of deeds; and John Stroger, president, 
Cook County board of commissioners.