Officials may face axe yet again

17th February 1995 at 00:00
The national Department of Education is under threat again in Washington, just as it was during President Reagan's reign.

Boosted by the Republican majority in Congress, conservatives are on the warpath. Doing away with the government has become the cry of the electoral victors, and there are clear signs that it resonates with voters.

At a conference organised by conservative groups last month, and in evidence to a congressional committee, two former Republican education secretaries, William Bennett and Lamar Alexander, called for the elimination of their old place of employment. The Department of Education had become too bureaucratic and "meddlesome", they said, and stifled innovation.

The department, small and relatively powerless compared to its English and Welsh counterpart, was established in the 1970s under President Jimmy Carter. It performs a ragbag of functions, including collection of statistics and administering student grants and loans, because the running of school systems lies elsewhere. But it has long been a bete noir of certain conservatives. The fact that it has not been well run until recently means it has few friends.

The House of Representatives' committee on education, which has been renamed the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee under its new Republican chairman, William Goodling, is expected to consider legislation to abolish the department.

However, many committee members of both parties, including Goodling, have strong reservations about dismantling it. And current Education Secretary Richard Riley is busy trying to justify its existence.

"Education is primarily a state responsibility under local control," said Riley. "But it is also a national priority which requires a national commitment."

Messrs Bennett and Alexander are particularly vexed by President Clinton's Goals 2000 reform, giving states money to raise standards in schools. Alexander said it turned a national movement into a federal one. Riley is wasting no opportunity trumpeting such reforms as achievements - albeit packaged in the wrapping paper of the conservative political climate.

In his second "Annual State of American Education address" delivered to a middle school in northern Virginia last week, Riley said the United States had turned a corner. Lauding the Goals 2000 plan, an attempt to set standards in every subject around the nation, he emphasised that this was a model of how states and local schools could be helped without being smothered with regulations.

"Our Department of Education has decided to have no regulations governing this 400 million dollar programme - no regulations - and the state application form is just four pages long," he said.

American ingenuity and creativity in the shape of charter schools (similar to Britain's grant-maintained concept) should be encouraged, he added. Vouchers for private schools should not, because of lack of accountability.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today