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Surely NPE Jests

by Susan Ohanian

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On January 13, 2015, the Network for Public Education sent a triumphant announcement that Congress is listening and even ready to answer questions. Followed by a note leaning strongly toward promoting Lamar Alexander as a good guy:

Senator Lamar Alexander (R) was Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, and selected NPE President Diane Ravitch as his Asst. Secretary for Research. Sen. Alexander became the Chair and ranking Republican on the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, on January 7, 2015 and now he has questions he wants answered too.

"Every parent, every teacher in 100,000 public schools is asking the question, 'Are there too many tests?' "Alexander said in an interview Thursday. "I don't know the answer. I'm asking the question. And the United States Senate ought to be asking that question as we think about No Child Left Behind."

Surely, someone is jesting.

Or trying to get us to believe that another leopard has changed its spots.


Senior US Senator from Tennessee and Conference Chair of the Republican Party; 45th governor of Tennessee from 1979 to 1987; U. S. Secretary of Education from 1991 to 1993 under President George H. W. Bush. In that last office he promoted America 2000, a precursor to NCLB. At the first meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 2002, Secretary of Education Alexander described work on a voluntary national examination system in the US. (See APEC) Alexander's involvement with his friend Chris Whittle's Edison Schools remains a subject of controversy. Alexander had received generous consulting fees from Whittle's magazine Tennessee Illustrated. In 1987, Alexander bought four shares of Whittle Communications for $10,000. A year later when Time Magazine bought half of Whittle's communications outfit, Whittle bought back those four shares for $330,000. Kenneth Saltman documents this and lots more in The Edison Schools: Corporate Schooling and the Assault on Public Education (2005).

Documenting Alexander

Notable Remark:
Choice breeds competition -- which is the best way to improve schools. It creates a powerful incentive for schools to get better, while at the same time creating much-needed options for children trapped in less than satisfactory schools. . . âOur education system is broken. School choice is an important part of the solution.ââSchool Choice: Part of the Solution to Our Broken Education System,â July 29, 2013. Statement signed with Mitch McConnell, Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Tim Scott

Affirmation: If the Next Century Schools undertaking sounds like Education Secretary Lamar Alexander`s America 2000 proposal for funding 535 experimental schools to âreinventâ American education, it may be because Alexander, before he came to Washington, was a member of the star-studded Next Century Schools Advisory Board.âWilliam Raspberry, â âNext Century Schoolsâ Idea May Revolutionize Education,â Washington Post Writers Group, July 26, 1991

Affirmation: (The day before the Race to the Top winners were announced) Duncan credits Republicans Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a former secretary of education now in the Senate, and Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware for helping shape the proposal.âDavid Broder, "After Race for the Top, No Child Left Behind faces revision," Washington Post, March 28, 2010

Affirmation: George Miller's been phenomenal. Lamar Alexander's been fantastic. --Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Q&A Council on Foreign Relations, Oct. 19, 2010

Affirmation: I developed great admiration for him as a thinker and leader. He understood the limits of federalism and he was always careful not to use the power of the federal government to force states or localities to do what he or his party wanted.--Diane Ravitch, "In Praise of Lamar Alexander," blog, Feb. 12, 2013

Refutation: The Whittle-Alexander connection symbolizes the new alliance between business and government to exploit the educational system. . . . Whittle sees nothing wrong in this: "Is there an inherent conflict between profits and education? No way. The biggest contribution business can make to education is to make education a business."âJohn S. Frieman (1982) quoted by David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools (1995), p. 151

Refutation: Lamar Alexander, mister-run-for-anything.--Gerald Bracey, "The Zero Percent Chance of 100 Percent Success," Huffington Post, March 15, 2007

Refutation: The draft of The Sandia Report closed with "There are many problems in American public schools, but there is no system-wide crisis." This was too positive for. . . Secretaries of Education and Energy, Lamar Alexander and James Watkins. . . . The Education Week article on The Sandia Report closed with the prediction that "Administration officials will use a lengthy review process to bury the report." Indeed, it was never published.--Gerald Bracey, "Righting Wrongs," Huffington Post, May 25, 2011

Refutation: Wikipedia has a critical entry on Alexander, detailing "sweetheart deals" in addition to Whittle.

— Susan Ohanian




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