Educators Praise Leadership Team In the Department

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Washington--Educators and political observers last week hailed the selection of David T. Kearns to be deputy education secretary and plans to retain Ted Sanders in a leadership post as evidence that the Bush Administration is preparing to launch an earnest effort to make its mark in the field of education.

"I think the President has put together a remarkably strong team," said Gordon M. Ambach, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "He's got a very experienced Governor and educational administrator in the Secretary; he's got a person who has a very strong connection in the major business world with David Kearns; and he's got a top-flight career educator in Ted Sanders."

"Put the three pieces together," Mr. Ambach said, "and it's the first time Bush has had a really strong team to guide his education program."

Meanwhile, evidence also mounted last week that the installation of the new leadership team was not the only personnel changes in the offing at the Education Department.

Sources in the department and on Capitol Hill said Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander had removed several senior managers from their posts. (See related story on this page.)

But observers agreed that the nomination of Mr. Kearns, chairman of the Xerox Corporation, may be the strongest signal yet that the Administration plans to concentrate more of its attention on education issues.

Mr. Kearns has been a leader among the business executives who have taken a high-profile interest in education in recent years, and was mentioned as a candidate for the Secretary's post before President Bush named Mr. Alexander, a former Tennessee Governor and a former president of the University of Tennessee.

Mr. Bush announced the Kearns nomination at a swearing-in ceremony for Mr. Alexander on March 22.

"I can't think of any precedent, and I've thought way back," said Denis P. Doyle, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. "Getting two people of this stature is really a dazzling development."

Mr. Bush also announced at the swearing-in ceremony that Mr. Sanders, the current deputy secretary, is to be nominated for a new post that combines the responsibilities of the deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation with those of the new position of chief financial officer, which was created last year.

The new position, which still must be established through legislation, would be titled "undersecretary."

"It's really a brilliant idea," a senior Democratic aide on the House Education and Labor Committee said. "It enables him to keep Sanders, who is well-liked and is apparently doing a good job, but to get Kearns as well."

The head of the office for planning, budget, and evaluation oversees the agency's budget office, program-evaluation activities, and the public-affairs branch. The incumbent has traditionally been a member of the Secretary's inner circle, playing a key role in policy development. The financial officer is charged with overseeing the department's financial management and accounting.

Most observers predict that Mr. Sanders will also continue to oversee much of the agency's day-to-day operation, usually the responsibility of its number-two manager, while Mr. Kearns will use his name recognition to help Mr. Alexander sell the Administration's agenda.

"I think they will play upon their strengths," said Jeanne Allen, education analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "One knows all the intricacies of education policy at the state level, and one knows you have to be bold, and you have to get people moved, and that change requires a lot of tough talk and action."

"I think there's a recognition that more needs to be done," Ms. Allen said, "and the people who lead the department signal how much you care about an issue."

Others agreed that the appointments signal a greater emphasis on education within the Administration, and probably an intention to advance a more ambitious agenda.

"I don't think either of them would have taken on these roles if President Bush had not given them a very strong commitment," Mr. Ambach said.

In addition, observers say, the appointments are likely to enhance the department's stature in the Administration and in the political world.

"It's gone from being one of the most weakly led agencies in government to one of the most strongly led, from the sub-basement to near the rooftops," said Chester E. Finn Jr., a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University who was an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan Administration.

Still, many wondered last week why Mr. Kearns, a star in the business world, would agree to accept the number-two slot at a relatively small federal agency.

Most observers, including colleagues from the business community, say Mr. Bush probably extended a personal invitation.

"I was surprised, and I think everyone I knew was surprised," said William H. Kolberg, president of the National Alliance of Business. "Most people can't and won't say 'no' to the President."

"David obviously feels deeply enough about this issue not to let his ego get in the way," said Owen B. Butler, former chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble. "He's going in there to get the job done."

While most observers were sanguine about the department's new leadership team, some cautioned that Mr. Alexander and Mr. Kearns could wind up stepping on each other's toes, or that educators could be left without a voice in the department.

"I fear there could be one too many Indian chiefs," a senior Education Department manager said.

Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said he was worried that, without input from educators, "governors and business people can come up with a lot of quick fixes that are going to be anything but a quick fix."

"I certainly hope they will listen to Ted Sanders," he added.

Mr. Goodling cited as examples current proposals for a national test and "ill-defined" choice plans--both policies supported by Mr. Bush and his appointees.

In fact, choice has long maintained a key spot on Mr. Kearns's educational agenda, an agenda his associates predict will mesh well with that of the Administration.

"He'll find ways of bringing in assessment, then accountability, then deregulation, giving teachers flexibility, instilling competition through broad choice programs," Mr. Butler said. "This augers very well for implementation of policies business seeks to support."

Associates also predict that Mr. Kearns will apply lessons he has learned in the business world to the Education Department.

"There will be a much stronger management and organizational thrust in the department," said Sol Hurwitz, president of the Committee for Economic Development.

In a foreword to a book on school reform published recently by the Hudson Institute, Mr. Kearns calls for "busting" the "education monopoly" of the public schools, and for "leadership" from the federal government and the business community.

The most important federal role in education, he writes, is to "gain the nation's attention" and "mobilize the American people for restructuring."

Mr. Kearns also urges schools to adopt a process called "bench marking," which he developed at Xerox.

"Compare yourself to the competition," Mr. Kearns writes. "Not the weak players but the best."

American education is in "precisely the kind of situation business was in in the 70's," said Mr. Doyle, a co-author of that book, who also collaborated with Mr. Kearns on a book on education in 1988.

"On the one hand, schools are in dreadful trouble," he said, but many people think "their schools are fine."

Schools can resort to "protectionism," or emulate Xerox and "try to beat the Japanese at their own game," Mr. Doyle said, adding: "It was a very painful process for Xerox."

Vol. 10, Issue 28, Page 1, 29

Published in Print: April 3, 1991, as Educators Praise Leadership Team In the Department
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