News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

November 05, 2003 2 min read

Nominee to Lead NCES Gets Committee Nod

Despite concerns voiced by education researchers, civil rights groups, and gay- rights organizations, a Senate committee gave the go-ahead last week to the nomination of Robert Lerner to head the nation’s education statistics agency.

The Oct. 29 decision by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee came by unanimous consent. But the ranking Democrat, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, asked to be on record opposing President Bush’s choice for commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the Department of Education.

Controversy arose over Mr. Lerner, a Rockville, Md.-based social scientist, because of his writings for conservative organizations and his strong stands on hot-button social issues. (“Lerner’s Writings Raise Objectivity Concerns,” June 18, 2003.)

While Mr. Lerner’s research methods are sound, the American Educational Research Association wrote in a letter to senators, “he has drawn strong ideological conclusions where other inferences are as plausible from the same data.” The Washington-based group, which represents some 18,000 researchers worldwide, asked the committee to spend more time considering the nomination.

If the full Senate confirms Mr. Lerner for the job, he will serve a six-year term. The agency, which collects and analyzes national data on educational progress and other topics, has not had a permanent head since 1999.

—Debra Viadero

Better Driver Education Urged at Conference

Traffic-safety advocates are calling for standardized driver education courses and more preparation for teachers of those classes.

At an Oct. 28-29 conference in Washington sponsored by the National Transportation Safety Board, Allen Robinson, the chief executive officer of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association, said that to reduce the number of traffic deaths involving young drivers, an information campaign should be launched to spell out the problems facing driver education, such as inconsistency in the training students receive across the country.

The quality of driver instruction needs to be addressed at the teacher level as well, said Mr. Robinson, who is also the director of the Highway Safety Center at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Most driver educators are of retirement age, and few new teachers are entering the field because of a lack of good teacher courses and limited job opportunities, he said in his speech.

—Michelle Galley