Federal Update: The real thing; El nuevo Secretary debuts

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During his nearly four years as Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett became a hero to the conservative movement.

So when Americans for Educational Choice held a farewell banquet for Mr. Bennett in Washington last week, the response was greater than any one dining room could contain.

The 400 educators and politicians attending the affair had to be put into three rooms, two equipped with giant video screens and one with the real thing.

"Bill Bennett was big enough and brave enough to walk about the ivy halls of academia with a chip on his shoulder the size of a redwood," said former White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. "And for that, he has gained attention."

Brenda Lee, principal of Edison Primary School in Dayton, Ohio, also praised Mr. Bennett for his outspokenness.

"Like the kids on the playground say, 'Thanks for telling it like it 'tis, like it 'tis, like it t-i-s is,"' Ms. Lee said, delighting the crowd.

After three hours of such encomiums, Mr. Bennett rose to assure the audience that his public career--as he put it, his "conversation with the American people" about education--would continue.

"I don't feel lame, I don't feel dead," he said. "There's still a lot of work to do."

Mr. Bennett's successor, Lauro A. Cavazos, expressed strong support for bilingual education at his first Secretarial news conference last week, and may have made a number of reporters wish they had experienced some.

When a correspondent for Spanish-language television asked Mr. Cavazos what the first Hispanic Cabinet member wanted to say to Spanish-speaking people, he replied, "Por favor, ninos, no dejen la escuela."

In English, that's "Please, children, don't leave school."

Later, in answer to a question from another Spanish-speaking reporter, the new Secretary praised bilingual education in both languages.

That view contrasts with Mr. Bennett's, as does Mr. Cavazos' gentler, less volatile style, and his pledge to work with the education community Mr. Bennett so antagonized.

Mr. Cavazos fielded questions on whether his appointment was intended to curry favor with Hispanic voters in the upcoming Presidential election, and whether he would stay on if George Bush were to win it.

"I like to believe that I was picked because I'm a person who is fully qualified, whether I'm Hispanic or not," Mr. Cavazos said. "I struck absolutely no deal, nor have we even discussed the possibility of my staying on beyond the January date," he added.--rrw & jm

Vol. 09, Issue 04

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