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Education secretary's challenge: break the mold.

U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander challenged the mayors and councilmembers of America's cities and towns to lend a hand to local education by creating atypical schools that "break the mold" in the way they educate our youth. Alexander addressed delegates at the Opening General Session of the Congress of Cities.

"I have the federal briefcase for a subject that local officials traditionally have not paid a lot of attention to . . . and that school boards say they should flat stay out of," Alexander said. He, however, says he believes that every mayor and city councilmember has a role in putting education on the front burner and improving the way we teach our nation's children.

Money is not the only way to improve education, Alexander pointed out. There are other ways for communities to invest in children.

"Education is my job and you are local elected officials, but we both know that almost all the action that has to do with education is in the community," he said. "And at the bottom of all of the things you work on we call problems is usually one solution called education. And so what I would like to talk about is my responsibility, our responsibilities in Washington, and what I would like to suggest are your responsibilities and your opportunities in my home town and in your home town and do something about this solution we call education."

Education seems to be the solution to many of the nation's ills, but it often is not treated as a hot topic and it usually is not associated with local governance. "I'm not the Washington official in charge of war and peace or the Ukraine or what is going on around the world," he said. "I'm not even the Washington official who's in charge of crime or drugs or housing or streets or any of the other things you mayors and city councilmembers and commissioners spend your time on."

Alexander told delegates about America 2000, a program which grew out of the national education summit held by President Bush and governors in Charlottesville, Va. He remarked that "every education group agrees with these goals . . . the first time they had agreed on anything."

He said it is empowering local governments and school districts to take a new look at the way education is managed here and find innovative ways to use limited resources. The Secretary believes mayors and councilmembers, as leaders in the community concerned with youth and the future of their cities, are just the people to take up the challenge.

"In most towns the public school is the most expensive building in town, but closed two-thirds of the time," Alexander said, pointing out that these costly structures are underutilized.

The American people say education is a priority, but they're just not sure what they can do about it. Gallup poll found that 44 percent of people said a strong military was very important to the nation's future, 60 percent said a strong industrial base was very important, and 85 percent said education was very important.

The America 2000 program is a "long-term strategy to help make this land all that it should be," the Secretary said. According to the America 2000 handbook, 'the program's aim is to meet six goals through a 15-point accountability package, with parents, teachers, schools and communities encouraged to measure results and compare results and insist on change when the results are not good enough.'

The Secretary outlined the following goals for America 2000:

1. all children start school ready to learn; 2. high school graduation rate of at least 90 percent; 3. students will demonstrate competency; 4. U.S. students will be first in the world in science and math; 5. every adult will be literate; 6. schools free of drugs and violence, offer disciplined environment for learning.

The Bush Administration believes the best way to approach these goals is through community commitment to the process of educating our nation's youth, Alexander said.

"Schools will never be much better than the commitment of their communities," Alexander said. "Each of our communities must become a place where learning can happen."

"Today, 30 governors have formed coalitions and hundreds of communities have signed on to the America 2000 idea," Alexander said. "The President and Congress can help, and you are right to expect them to.

He challenged the audience to be courageous and committed enough to 'create 'break-the-mold' schools which dare to experiment with new and better ways to educate the youth of the nation.

He offered the following ways to "help children outside school where there are so many obstacles to learning"

"Open schools early and close them later, make every school a community and every community a school," work to rid our communities of drugs, and put a premium on learning. Adults and leaders in the community must demonstrate actively and often that education is important.

Alexander cited an African proverb which embraces his philosophy: "it takes an entire village to educate one child."

The Secretary talked about programs across the country that are working and challenged members of the National League of Cities to bring America 2000 to their communities. "I can think of nobody who would be a better candidate to make a city or town and American 2000 community than mayor or councilmember," he said.
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Title Annotation:Lamar Alexander
Author:Ryder, Julianne Ryan
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 16, 1991
Previous Article:Board adopts policies, plans for next year.
Next Article:Secretary Lamar Alexander huddles with NLC leaders.

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