Bennett and the N.E.A.--A War of Words

By Lynn Olson — September 16, 1987 3 min read
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The war of words between U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, has escalated in the past year. Following are selected examples of the barbs traded by the Secretary and the union president in recent months:

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett:

  • Nov. 21, 1986. Speech to the Fairfax County (Va.) Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Bennett criticized the N.E.A. and three of the nation’s largest administrator groups for dodging the issue of merit pay in their report on teacher evaluation:

“The national education organizations have once again punted. They have endorsed teacher evaluations as long as they are all positive and have no effect. ... This is ridiculous. In fact, teacher evaluations without rewards for those who are good, and warnings for those who teach poorly, are a pointless exercise that the public ought not to tolerate.”

  • April 5, 1987. Speech to the Education Writers Association, San Francisco.

Mr. Bennett asserted that “the education-reform movement is being hijacked and held for ransom” by education bureaucrats and special-interest groups, including the N.E.A.

Claims that school reform cannot occur without “lots of money first’’ are “polite extortion,” the Secretary insisted. And he predicted that failure to resist the pressure of special interests “will mean ... the slow death of reform.”

  • July 2, 1987. Statement released during the nea convention in Los Angeles.

Mr. Bennett charged that the N.E.A. leadership “has long since lost any legitimacy to speak on behalf of the field of American education.”

“Over the past two decades, the N.E.A. has caused or exacerbated many more problems than it has solved. It has opposed, and continues to oppose, the most obvious and important reforms that serious-minded citizens, elected officials--and teachers--have sought.”

In another statement released the same week, Mr. Bennett said: “American teachers want better schools. Unfortunately, they don’t have an ally in the N.E.A. leadership, who showed once again this week that they are far more interested in playing politics than in working for serious education reforms.”

  • Sept. 6, 1987. Interview on the NBC-TV show “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Bennett claimed that the “education establishment"--in particular, the nea--has resisted efforts at accountability in education.

“Although many of the members of the nea are fine teachers and fine people, the nea resists change--significant change--wherever it is proposed.”

“Whenever you try to get accountability into the system, the nea is there to resist.”

The Secretary added that he would be “happy to work with the nea” when the union shifts its emphasis “to the interests of children, rather than just the self-interest of that organization.”

Mary Hatwood Futrell:

  • Jan. 30, 1987. Speech to the Holmes Group, Washington, D.C.

Ms. Futrell asserted that--when compared with its “rhetoric about excellence in education"--the Reagan Administration’s proposed education budget was “nothing short of duplicitous.”

“The Reagan regime’s motto has become ‘educate the best, forget the rest.’ And that is why this Administration now seeks to slash the federal funds for education by 30 percent.”

  • Feb. 15, 1987. Speech to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Washington, D.C.

Ms. Futrell said equity and excellence were “under siege” by the Reagan Administration.

“Ronald Reagan has spearheaded the retreat from equity, and his loyal sidekick--William Bennett--has praised that retreat.”

“I wonder what our children think when the Secretary of Education--whose overriding responsibility is to serve as an advocate for this nation’s students--goes before Congress to plead for cuts in the education budget. Secretary Bennett would do well to remember that children have a special knack for spotting hypocrisy ... and the Secretary is giving them extra practice in honing that skill.”

“I have waited more than two years for Secretary of Education William Bennett to show--just once--fidelity to the ideals on which he endlessly lectures the American people. ... I have waited for the Secretary to fulfill the responsibilities of his office by acting positively on behalf of this nation’s children. I now believe it is time to explain to Secretary Bennett why we can’t wait.”

  • July 2, 1987. Speech to the annual N.E.A. convention in Los Angeles.

Ms. Futrell asserted that in 1986, “the voters of America finally rejected voodoo economics.”

“In 1988 they will reject voodoo education--if we do our part. We have the ability, the opportunity, and the responsibility. In 1988, we will elect an Education President.”


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