Mr Clinton, in a speech to America's largest black organisation, said improving the quality of teaching should be considered an extension of the 1960s civil rights movement.
"A generation ago, it was simply a fight to open the schoolhouse door, " Mr Clinton told members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "Today, though much segregation remains, the schoolhouse doors are open, yet behind too many doors too little learning is taking place."
The president cited a study that found 71 per cent of students taking physical science courses and 33 per cent of English students in the poorest schools are studying under teachers who did not even have a minor college qualification in their subjects.
He has asked Congress to pledge $350m toward scholarships, training and student-loan write-offs for prospective teachers who agree to work in low-income schools - this compares with the $5m a year now earmarked for that purpose.
Mr Clinton also ordered that the best teacher-education programmes be used as models in a campaign to increase standards. Officials also are trying several other methods to improve the quality of inner-city teachers, among them recruiting returning Peace Corps volunteers.