Alexander on President’s Education Speech: “The President and Secretary Duncan Deserve Our Applause and Support for Their Efforts” on Teacher Pay, Charter Schools and Better State Standards

Posted on July 30, 2010

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today made the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

  • “The President of the United States made an important speech this morning.  He spoke to the national Urban League Centennial Conference on Education . . . I commend the president for his courage, for his vision and for his willingness to undertake the hard work of helping children across this country learn what they need to know and be able to do.  He didn’t back away from tackling the most important and most difficult challenge that any of us who have dealt with education reform have found and that is: how do we reward outstanding teachers?”

On rewarding teachers for teaching well:

  • “All of us know that a great teacher makes a great difference.  The president said that himself.  Each of us in the United States Senate knows that, but any of us who have over the last several years spent time trying to find ways to reward outstanding teachers know how hard it is.  I worked on it in 1983 when Tennessee became the first state to reward outstanding teachers . . . Every education meeting I go to comes down to the same point: after you get past the role of the parent, the teacher is the center of it.”

On charter schools:

  • “When charter schools work, the beneficiaries are most often the children who come from the most difficult circumstances.  I can point to a charter school in Memphis I visited three years ago when it was Easter holiday.  Children there were ninth or tenth graders.  Instead of being on Easter holiday, they were studying for their Advanced Placement course in biology at a college level.  There wasn’t any other school in Tennessee where children that age were studying Advanced Placement biology, especially during the Easter week break.”


  • “President Obama has done what President Bush did, what President Clinton did, what I’ve done and what others may have done, which is to say, ‘Let’s have independent public charter schools and give teachers the freedom to do what they know how to do.’”

On higher standards:

  • “The president has advanced the idea of state-led common standards very well in the last 18 months and he’s done it in the right way.  He hasn’t said, ‘OK, I’m the president, we’ll write it from Washington.’  That would have killed it.  Instead, he said, ‘Let’s create an environment in which states can make a difference and make their own choices.’ And states, in surprisingly large numbers, are beginning to do that in terms of reading and math.”

On Race to the Top:

  • “[Race to the Top] is infusing one of the hardest things that’s possible to infuse into public education, and that is excellence.  We have a democratic society and we’re usually interested in leveling things.  What we’re not used to doing in government, and that goes for public education as well, is to say, ‘Let’s reward excellence.’  Let’s say to those school districts or to those states or those teachers or those others who are making A-pluses and doing the best job, ‘We want to incent you to do that.’ . . . The president has got the politics out of it.  He’s put money into it, and he deserves credit for it.”

On Secretary Duncan:

  • “I said when Arne Duncan was appointed that he might be the president’s best appointment. I still think that. Not because I agree with everything he recommends. In fact, I think he was wrong on student loans and his proposal on gainful employment is a little wacky. But he is an excellent leader in education and he has a big heart and he’s worked in a bipartisan way and he’s gotten results that are as good as anybody could have possibly gotten on some of the toughest subjects facing our country. We’ll have differences of opinion about how much we can spend and when we can spend it, but if the goal is to reward outstanding teaching, to create more charter schools, to help states raise standards in an environment where they’re not told to do so by Washington but where it creates an environment for them to do so themselves, if the goals is to infuse excellence into public higher education by challenging states to do better, then … we should do it together.”

On the importance of parents in a child’s education:

  • “The only thing I disagreed with today in the president’s speech was this: he said teachers were the most important part of a child’s education. I think a parent is. And I think he does, too; I think he would agree. I think parents and teachers are 90 percent of it, but that it starts with the parent. The reason I think he would agree is because he had good parents and he is a good parent and a very good example to the rest of the country. Anyone who’s read his autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, knows the story of his mother getting him up at four in the morning in Indonesia and teaching him math and how to read and telling him, ‘Buster, it’s not any fun for me, so get busy and learn.’ And he learned very well. And his example as a good parent and as a good student is exactly the kind of example we need for students and parents across our country.”


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