President George H. W. Bush and Lamar Alexander.
I get it that Tennessee’s Republican Senator Lamar Alexander was a chief sponsor of ESSA, the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
And I get it that the NEA supported ESSA, although nobody can explain to me exactly what they think is so good about ESSA.
Still, I am puzzled that they are giving Alexander the NEA’s Friend of Education award at this year’s Representative Assembly in D.C. next week.
Alexander has a long history of not being very friendly to public education and teacher unions, including as the first President George Bush’s Secretary of Education.
Let us go back to 1992 when the NEA was not very happy when Alexander fronted for one of the pioneers in public school privatization, Chris Whittle and his Edison project.
It was back then that my brother Mike Klonsky wrote about Whittle, Alexander and the NEA in an article about the Edison Project that was published in the Chicago Reader.
Another group targeting Whittle’s program is the unions. Ellen Shearer, a spokesperson for the 780,000-member American Federation of Teachers, says the Edison Project “is diverting attention and focus from the problems of the public schools.”
On the other hand, antiunion forces are forming a new independent association of nonunion teachers as an alternative to the AFT and the National Education Association (NEA). “We are the wave of the future,” said Davis Bingham, executive director of the 54,000-member Association of Texas Professional Educators, the largest affiliate of the embryonic national group, which has not yet been formally named. With its base of conservative teachers and sponsorship by such right-wing groups as the National Right to Work Committee, the new association could provide Whittle–if he wants one–with an alternative to the mainstream teachers’ unions.
And the current NEA’s best friend of public education Lamar Alexander’s role in all this?
Whittle’s plan, according to the New York Times, “runs parallel to the new education plan unveiled by President Bush and Education Secretary Lamar Alexander–a plan that calls for grants to groups that set up experimental schools, and for the building of more than 500 “choice schools” by 1996. His schools also complement the Bush-Alexander view that public funds should be used to pay for private tuition. By positioning himself early, Whittle stands to become the biggest single recipient of public voucher funds in the country as well as the dominant policy voice in American education circles.