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Bennett Lashes Educators For Holding Reform ‘For Ransom’

April 5, 1987

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Secretary of Education William J. Bennett charged Sunday that some teacher unions and the educational bureaucracy are ″hijacking education reform and holding it for ransom″ in several states.

Bennett said he sees signs of backsliding in legislatures in Indiana, Texas, Maine and elsewhere that could jeopardize the movement to improve the nation’s schools.

In a speech to the Education Writers Association, Bennett named the National Education Association as a prime culprit for retarding the progress of reform.

He likened the situation to the perils that befell the ancient Greek warrior Odysseus on his long journey home from the Trojan war, when his crew joined the Lotus Eaters and wanted to stay rather than leave such a pleasant place.

The most persistent opposition is from those who demand ″lots of money first″ before schools can be fixed, he said.

″This is polite extortion. This ... is nothing short of hijacking education reform and holding it for ransom,″ he said. ″The American people have paid and paid dearly for education, but as yet they have not been given their money’s worth.″

Keith Geiger, vice president of the 1.8 million-member NEA, countered in a telephone interview that ″you’re not going to reform education without paying teachers a salary to attract the best.″

The NEA’s Geiger said Bennett was trying to distract attention from his own failings, including the beating he took in Congress over Reagan’s attempt to cut the education department’s budget by $5.5 billion, or 25 percent.

But Albert Shanker, president of the rival American Federation of Teachers, said he agrees with Bennett that ″there are states where there are groups saying that ’until we get all the goodies we want, we’re not going to move ahead.‴

″If we take responsibility and move ahead, I think that many of the resources that we need will come after we make the moves,″ Shanker said.

Bennett also rebuked the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, Bill G. Aldridge, for saying stiffer science requirements would increase dropouts.

″Shooting yourself in the foot is one thing, but shooting yourself and American students in the brain is another,″ Bennett said. Efforts to reach Aldridge for comment were unsuccessful; no one answered the telephone Sunday at his Washington office.

Bennett cited these particulars:

-″Retreat on education reform in Indiana.″ He said the state House, under pressure from the state teachers association, gutted Gov. Robert Orr’s reform package, including steps to extend the school year and allow the state to take over ″bankrupt″ schools.

The NEA’s Geiger responded: ″The Indiana House is Republican. Orr couldn’t get his own party to support it.″

-Education reform ″in danger in Texas,″ where ″the state Legislature has abandoned plans to test teachers″ in subjects they teach. ″The state may abandon its teacher career ladder,″ Bennett said.

-″A threat of reform backsliding in Maine,″ where the Maine Teachers Association, which like its Indiana counterpart is an NEA affiliate, is lobbying to eliminate the rank of master teacher.

Geiger said Maine teachers support many changes, but want the master teacher plan dropped because of widespread dissension in 20 pilot districts.

-Teacher career ladders ″also under attack in North Carolina and Tennessee.″

-″Backsliding in Michigan,″ where the State Board of Education has decided not to require local districts to give statewide science tests on which students scored poorly.

-Efforts to promote parental choice in education ″scotched in California, North Dakota (and) Louisiana.″

But Bennett also said reform is ″alive and well″ in:

-New Jersey, which has ″one of the most impressive and comprehensive education reform programs in the country,″ including ″a highly successful alternative certification for teachers.″

-Virginia, where the superintendent of schools has proposed reforms including a literacy test students must pass before ninth grade.

-Maryland, which has a ″fine citizenship education program.″

Bill Honig, California’s superintendent of public instruction, told the meeting Saturday that it was ″dangerous″ for Bennett or Reagan to argue that better schools won’t require a bigger investment.

″It’s going to cost you something,″ said Honig.

Bennett said, ″A lot of good things have occurred in California. ... But I don’t think it does Bill Honig any credit to go and ridicule the president.″