Lamar Alexander Jr. - a university president whose mother was a teacher and father was a principal - told the Senate Wednesday he will strive to make President Bush's education goals a reality if confirmed as education secretary.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which oversees education, led the praise of Alexander - who was also governor of Tennessee - as his confirmation hearings began."As governor, you launched a wave of education reform throughout the state of Tennessee during the 1980s that increased teacher salaries and upgraded educational achievement.

"The leadership and energy that you brought to the education reform movement in Tennessee are needed here in Washington as well," Hatch told Alexander.

A sign that Alexander's confirmation should be easy is that Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., added that Alexander "has had a distinguished career in politics and in the academic world. As governor . . . he made education a centerpiece of his administration. In 1988, he became president of the University of Tennessee."

In opening remarks, Alexander told the committee, "It is an honor to be asked to be secretary of education by the president who wants to be the education president."

He added, "I believe this country has taken an important step in agreeing on national goals for education" - which came from Bush's education summit with the nation's governors last year.

"Now our mission is to see if we can get the (reform) train moving down the track toward those goals and make room on the train for every American. That is an enormous challenge."

He also outlined some of his priorities.

"For today's children, we must develop better, restructured schools, schools that work, schools that teachers will proudly teach in and that parents will gladly choose for their daughters and sons."

Alexander added, "For ourselves, today's grownups, we need to go back to school - not to the classrooms with the small desks, but to training in the workplace, to the community college, to the university, the union hall, almost anywhere that we can bring our knowledge and skill levels up to the place that will help us compete in the world as it is today."