Lamar Alexander: And the Beat Goes On ….

It seems that July 1991 was an important month for education reformers.  Lamar Alexander as Secretary of Education under President H. W. Bush was very busy on two fronts: 1) laying the groundwork for a national system of assessment (that would require the eventual development of a set of national standards); and 2) facilitating the corporate world’s entre’ into the education arena in full force.

Thanks to C-Span, we have a front row seat to some of the events and pronouncements of Lamar Alexander in which his education reform agenda is laid on the table – in full view of the American public – and we’re feeling the repercussions in full force today.

At a July 1, 1991,  National Education Goals Panel meeting the groundwork for a national system of assessment was laid.  Democrat Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, with Secretary Lamar Alexander at his side, explained the formation and purposes of the Council for Standards and Testing that was the result of a newly enacted law.  As you will note, beginning at approximately 1:19 on the video counter, Romer provides a graphic of the development process for the national assessment, explaining that NAEP testing was inadequate in that it only provided a national picture of educational progress and comparisons between states.  What was needed was a national assessment or set of assessments based on individual student achievement.  NAEP would remain in place; however, a newly developed national assessment would be administered to every child.

Lamar Alexander follows Romer with these insightful words:

“ Sometimes things that look big don’t amount to anything.  Things that seem small amount to a lot.  This is one of those small steps that amounts to a lot — because it represents a beginning to taking the first concrete steps forward to how to exactly develop a national system of examination.  That’s one part and the second part is it includes within that discussion, without committing themselves to a particular way to do it, members of Congress — and I think it’s important to say the Republican and Democratic members of Congress took an issue about which they could have played a game or two with — because there were competing versions of an idea and they put it together.  Dale Kildee [Democrat from Michigan] especially in the House of Representatives took a leadership role in doing that and I think took a very constructive step and it is moving swiftly — but the country needs to [act] as swifty as it accurately and responsibly can in this area because people want some progress.  It is an important step and I thank you [Romer] and Governor Campbell [Republican Governor of South Carolina] deserve a great deal of credit for your leadership in it and that the Congress, both the Democratic and Republican members deserve a lot of credit for putting their partisanship to one side and getting on with this in very rapid order and there are very few things that move through Congress that swiftly and I think it is a very encouraging step.”

Exactly one week later, on July 8, 1991, President H. W. Bush and Lamar Alexander announced the “New American Schools Development Corporation” as the new vanguard approach to reforming public education. This “private” venture was lead by both political leaders and corporate CEOs from companies such as R.J.R. Nabisco, Boeing, AT&T, and Rand.

Several things to note:

  1. …. the declaration that charter school legislation is as an important factor in implementing privatization efforts;
  2. …. Lamar Alexander’s comment that the New American Schools project was “moving rapidly;”
  3. …. the response to a reporter about the possible need for congressional oversight in this new private venture into public education.  This question drew an almost terse response: “There is absolutely no need for that. As a matter of fact, this is an entirely private corporation.  There’s no reason for Congress to be involved in this wholly private venture…”; and
  4. … last, but certainly not least, the mention of Chris Whittle’s private venture foray into the education arena.

Chris Whittle was an important player in the private sector’s incursion in education reform:

In a New York Times article in 1989, Bill Carter reported the names of the luminaries who would serve on Whittle’s Channel One’s board.  These names would include former Department of Education Secretary Terrel Bell (who brought us “A Nation at Risk” under President Ronald Reagan) and Lamar Alexander (then serving as President of the University of Tennessee).  Later in July, 1991, Lamar Alexander’s official position regarding Channel One was, “There’s room for everybody on the reform bandwagon.”

Lamar Alexander’s agenda for education reform has been clear for many years now — national assessment, national standards, and privatization.  I’m detecting a pattern in Alexander’s leadership style.  He likes to move rapidly.  He’s pushing ESEA reauthorization through in the same rapid manner he promoted over two decades ago.  So, does anyone really think he is going to eliminate standardized testing?  And, to be sure, he is moving full steam ahead in the privatization of America’s public schools.

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