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Secretary of Education Will Leave Bush Cabinet

Ohanian Comment: It's important to remember that Paige didn't cause our troubles and his leaving certainly won't solve them. Here are two accounts of his legacy.

"He was a good salesman for Bush. But in terms of having influence on policy, he was a nonentity.''
--Jack Jennings

Secretary of Education Will Leave Bush Cabinet by Diane Jean Schemo
New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 - After four years as education secretary, bringing President Bush's signature law on education to classrooms across the nation, Rod Paige plans to leave the cabinet in the near future

The unofficial announcement makes Dr. Paige, a son of segregation in Mississippi who rose to become the first black secretary of education, the third cabinet official who will not stay on for a second Bush term, following the resignations of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans earlier this week.

Dr. Paige "has been looking at leaving, and has been talking with White House about the right time to do so," said an administration official who requested anonymity, since no official announcement had been made by either the White House or the Education Department. Separately, a second administration official confirmed the discussions.

The first official said Dr. Paige had not been asked to resign but would be "leaving of his own accord.''

The name most frequently heard as a successor to Dr. Paige is Margaret Spellings, the White House chief domestic policy adviser who was one of six authors of the education law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

Ms. Spellings worked on education issues with Mr. Bush when he was governor of Texas, developing programs on early reading, on ending social promotion and on the state accountability system that served as a model for No Child Left Behind.

Ms. Spellings's White House biography lists no experience running a school system. Her appointment would, however, follow in the mold of another recent nomination of a White House insider to a cabinet-level post: that of Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel Mr. Bush selected to serve as his next attorney general.

After his election victory, Mr. Bush spoke of building on No Child Left Behind by extending its annual testing requirements to the high school grades. Some conservatives have called on him to go further in his second term by pressing for school vouchers and expanding the opportunities for children to transfer out of failing schools, even across district lines.

But this may not be so easy. School officials in many states are already struggling to meet the law's myriad requirements, with many complaining that it is not adequately financed. Some states have also question the law, saying it has upended their own efforts and school reform.

The law requires the annual testing of students in grades three to eight, with schools that fail to show sufficient progress for two years or more facing progressively severe consequences. Already, more than 25,000 schools have been deemed underperforming.

Arriving in Washington from Houston, where he ran the nation's seventh-largest school system from 1994 to 2001, Dr. Paige is the first education secretary to have run a large urban district. He defended No Child Left Behind's goal of closing the achievement gap between blacks and whites and likened critics of it to segregationists who were "on the wrong side of history." In talks and interviews, he has been careful not to publicly part ways with the administration on any question.

But he has also created political embarrassments. Earlier this year, for example, Dr. Paige called the nation's largest teachers' union, the National Education Association, a "terrorist organization," accusing it of opposing No Child Left Behind with obstructionist tactics. He later apologized to the teachers, but not to the union.

Reg Weaver, president of the N.E.A., which has been a frequent critic of the administration, said that he saw Dr. Paige as having carried out the agenda of the administration, but hoped that "the next person would be more amenable to finding common ground with the N.E.A.''

Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said Dr. Paige "certainly had his rough moments, but he has done an effective job of putting a human face on the issue. Symbolically, having an educator at the helm was helpful.''

But others, like Jack Jennings, a longtime counsel for congressional Democrats on education who runs the Center on Education Policy, said Dr. Paige failed to use his experience running an urban district to shape education policy.

"He was a good salesman for Bush," Mr. Jennings said. "But in terms of having influence on policy, he was a nonentity.''

Education Secretary Paige Plans to Step Down Bush Aide Spellings Is Likely Successor

By Michael Dobbs and Mike Allen
Washington Post

Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige, who spearheaded implementation of the No Child Left Behind law, a centerpiece of President Bush's first-term domestic policy agenda, is stepping down, administration officials said yesterday.

The officials said that Bush will accept the resignation of Paige, 71, a longtime ally and former superintendent of schools in Houston who served as the nation's first black education secretary. They named White House domestic policy adviser Margaret Spellings as his probable successor.

If Paige's resignation becomes official -- which officials said is likely to happen next week -- he will be the third Cabinet member to leave since the election. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans have also announced that they will not serve in a second Bush administration.

Paige, who got to know Bush in the early 1970s when they worked together on a community development project in Houston, is regarded as one of the most loyal members of the Cabinet. He traveled tirelessly around the country promoting the philosophy of No Child Left Behind, which aimed to introduce business-style accountability standards in primary and secondary schools.

For all the energy that Paige displayed in promoting the new law, many observers believed that real power over education policy lay in the White House, particularly with Spellings, who advised Bush on education issues when he was governor of Texas. Her promotion would be the second time Bush put a personal aide at the head of a Cabinet department. On Wednesday, Bush named White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to succeed Ashcroft.

Some conservatives expressed disappointment over the likely elevation of Spellings, interpreting it as a sign that the Bush administration does not plan any major new education initiatives in the second term. They would like the president to do more to promote alternatives to what they see as the failed public school system, particularly in urban areas, through greater use of vouchers and charter schools.

"I think the White House kept Paige pretty much under wraps," said William J. Bennett, who served as education secretary under President Ronald Reagan, and is a leading proponent of home schooling. "He wanted to talk a lot more about school choice, but they pulled the reins pretty tight on him."

Bennett said his preferred candidate for secretary of education would be someone like Eugene Hickok, the present deputy secretary, who made a big push for charter schools when he ran the Pennsylvania education system prior to joining the Bush administration. He also mentioned the Philadelphia schools superintendent, Paul Vallas, a Democrat who has won a nationwide reputation for repairing broken school systems.

While Bush administration officials insisted that Paige was leaving the administration of his own volition, others suspect that he may have been given a bit of a push. According to Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a conservative education think tank here, Paige had earlier signaled that he still felt he had "some work" left to accomplish.

Finn described Paige as "a truth speaker" kept on a "very short leash" by the White House. "It would have driven me crazy," he said. "I would not have lasted four years with as little autonomy and authority as his team has had."

Paige, who attended segregated schools in Mississippi as a child, won headlines for his blunt warnings about the dumbing down of public education and the "achievement gap" between whites and African Americans. He promoted the No Child Left Behind law as a way to narrow the gap by holding students everywhere to the same standards and using the results of standardized testing as a way to reward good schools and penalize bad ones.

The secretary showed little patience with critics who argued that the law is too rigid and too bureaucratic to achieve its goals, and is likely to result in ever-increasing numbers of schools being dubbed "failures." In February, he caused a furor by describing the 2.7 million-strong National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, as a "terrorist organization" for opposing No Child Left Behind. He later apologized for the remark.

Jack Jennings, a former Democratic congressional staffer who now runs the Center on Education Policy, said that the only major new education initiative on the horizon for Bush's second term was the extension of high-stakes testing to high schools. At present, No Child Left Behind focuses on testing in the third, fifth, and eighth grades.

"Bush is likely to be busy with Iraq, taxes and Social Security in the second term," Jennings said. "A new education secretary might carry more weight on Capitol Hill than Paige, but the policy itself is unlikely to change."

Don McAdams, who served with Paige on the Houston school board that pioneered many of the reforms that later became part of No Child Left Behind, said he was "not surprised" by the secretary's decision to step down after "four years in a very intense environment." He said that Paige had "several ideas for books," including one about the redesign of large urban school districts.

— Diane Jean Schemo; Michael Dobbs and Mike Allen
New York Times & Washington Post


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