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May 13, 1988 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-13

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FRIDAY, MAY 13, 1988


a revolving one; in a one-hour span, the
education secretary hurtles through the
door four or five times, talking to Kristol
in the kind of conversational shorthand of
people who have worked together for a long
In their interaction, their respective roles
are clear; Bennett, a big man with a
peremptory manner, is the boss, while
Kristol is the indispensable chief of staff
who seems to know Bennett's thoughts
before Bennett does.
Kristol came to the Department of
Education after teaching at the Kennedy
School of Government at Harvard. Before
that, he taught at the University of Penn-
sylvania and Cornell, and served as co-chair
of Academics for Reagan-Bush, 1984.
He was elevated to the position of Chief
of Staff in December, 1985. From the
outset, he played a key role in helping
reshape the controversial department. "In
earlier years, the Department may have
represented the interests of the educational
establishment," he says. "Under Secretary
Bennett, we have moved in the direction of
serving as an agent of change in that
Like his boss, Kristol works hard to por-
tray his conservatism in pragmatic instead
of ideological terms. "Secretary Bennett is
conservative and I am conservative, and
what we've done here is try to tell the
truth: that what works in education is
what conservatives have said works. It
turns out that you can spend more and
more money, but if you don't have sound
programs, high standards and solid sub-
jects, that money does not provide better-
educated kids."
Education, he suggests, is an area where
common sense and conservatism enjoy a
particularly harmonious relationship. The
emphasis on educational basics, he says,
dovetails nicely with the broader conser-
vative goal of reducing the federal presence
in a variety of areas of American life.
It also doesn't hurt that it coincides with
Administration attempts to slash funding
for domestic programs.
Like his boss, Kristol does not shy away
from the fact that the educational agenda
of this administration is heavily political.
The late-night debates over the tenets of
conservatism may be stimulating, but the
real action takes place in the rough-and-
tumble of big-time politics and in the arena
of public opinion, where Bennett and his
team have been particularly effective.
A major factor in this effectiveness has
been Bennett's ability to attract media at-
tention. Bill Kristol, in his roles as
scheduler, strategist and advisor, plays a
big role in shaping the image that has
made Bennett's name a household word
across the nation, an unusual status for a
Secretary of Education.
"On the whole," Kristol says, "this abili-
ty to command attention has been tre-
mendously helpful to his agenda, and my

agenda as well. I think it's good for educa-
tion; even people who disagree with us
about most things agree that this personal
visibility has helped keep education on the
front burner. There's a huge amount of fer-
ment and debate going on because of it."
When the Secretary recently attacked
the Chicago public schools as the nation's
worst, his comments were roundly criti-
cized by education groups. Kristol gives
the impression that such controversies are
tactical, not accidental.
Bennett's status as a media superstar
poses special problems for his chief of staff
— and offers distinct political oppor-
tunities. "One thing one has to remember,
in advising him about what to say, or
speaking in his behalf, is that there's such
heightened scrutiny of everything he says.
So we try hard to be very careful about
what we say. In that sense, my job is
harder than if he was some obscure cabinet
member. But it's also a sign of success."
Partly because of this visibility, Kristol
suggests, Bennett's reign at Education has
produced some concrete results — al-
though the Democratic takeover of the
Senate has slowed down the department's
legislative program. Kristol is particular-
ly proud of the department's rules on bi-
lingual education — a key point in the con-
servative educational agenda.
"We have reemphasized the teaching of
English," he says. "Our purpose should be
to make students fluent in English rather
than allow them to become trapped in a
linguistic ghetto as a result of bilingual
He also argues that the department,

"Secretary Bennett is
conservative and I am
conservative; and what
we've done here is try to tell
the truth: that what works in
education is what
conservatives have
said works."

under Bennett, has forced more account-
ability for federal education funds. "The
Department of Education spews out about
$20 billion a year," he says. "Some of that
money is well spent, some of it isn't. We try
to see that more of the money is well spent
— and that reforms take place in programs
where the money isn't having an effect."
Critics argue that these "reforms" con-
sist mostly of hacking away at the federal
education budget.
Kristol points to another important
thrust of the Bennett years at Education:
more and more, the department has sought
to make its influence felt in local and
regional battles over education reform.
"There are a whole bunch of issues here,"
he says, "ranging from the certification of
teachers to merit pay to breaking up some

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