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Published in Print: January 10, 2001, as Paige's Nomination Applauded By Unions, Conservatives Alike

Paige's Nomination Applauded By Unions, Conservatives Alike

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Houston schools Superintendent Rod Paige appears to have widespread support in Washington as President-elect Bush's pick for secretary of education.

"I think it was a good choice," said Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the new chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. "Why not put someone in there who has real, hands-on experience?"

"Nothing has indicated that there would be any problems [with Mr. Paige's confirmation]," added Joe Karpinski, the spokesman for Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which is expected to hold hearings on the nomination this week.

Roderick Raynor Paige

Position: Superintendent, Houston Independent School District, 1994 to present
Age: 67
Education: B.S., physical education, Jackson State University, 1955; M.A. and Ph.D., physical education, Indiana University, 1969.
Other experience: Houston school board member, 1989-1994 (board president in 1992); dean of school of education, Texas Southern University, 1984-1990; served in various other positions at Texas Southern, including assistant porfessor, athletic director, and head football coach, 1971-1984; head football coach, Jackson State University 1962-1969..
Recent Awards: the 2000 Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education, given by the McGraw- Hill Cos. to high-ranking individuals who have improved education; named "outstanding superintendent of the year" in 2000 by the National Alliance of Black School Educators' named "outstanding urban educator" in 1999 by the Council for the Great City Schools.
Personal: Divorced, one child.

While most Democrats had yet to comment publicly last week on Mr. Paige's appointment, all signs point to a relatively smooth confirmation process. His selection by Mr. Bush on Dec. 29 was applauded by the national teachers' unions and most other education groups, as well as by leading conservatives.

Most observers praised Mr. Paige's record in turning around the nation's seventh- largest school district, where he oversaw a dramatic increase in test scores, new accountability measures for principals, and the passage of a badly needed school construction bond.

In addition, advocates for school choice commended his willingness to provide parents with alternatives to regular public schools. Under Mr. Paige's leadership, the 210,000-student Houston Independent School District opened 20 charter schools and created a modest voucher-style program.

"His support for school choice not only helped the students, but helped the overall public school system," said Ken Connor, the president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Washington-based group.

Union officials, meanwhile, focused on the 67-year-old administrator's firsthand experience in urban schools.

"What we know of him has for the most part been positive," National Education Association President Bob Chase said. "He's demonstrated he is committed to quality public education and quality urban education. If there's any concern, it's his support for some forms of vouchers ... but he was at the top of the list of people being considered as far as we're concerned."

Sandra Feldman, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, also reacted positively. "His experience in urban education will be helpful in keeping the nation's schools on the path to reform," she said.

Both national unions had worked energetically in support of Mr. Bush's Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore.

Local union leaders in Houston commented favorably on Mr. Paige as well. "I think he'll do an excellent job," said Gayle Fallon, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, who formed a cordial working relationship with the superintendent after a tense period early in his tenure. "I'm quite sure Bush selected him because he knows the Texas accountability system and he's done well under it."

Indeed, Mr. Bush—echoing his own "reformer with results" campaign slogan— described Mr. Paige at a Dec. 29 news conference as "a reformer and someone with a record of results."

"He's someone who knows it's important to set the highest of standards and not accept any excuse for failure," the former Texas governor added. "He believes, as I do, that accountability is a true friend of reform."

Record of Progress

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Paige would be the first African-American to serve as U.S. secretary of education. He would also be the first to have managed a big-city district.

With his seven years at the helm of the Houston schools—nearly three times the average tenure for an urban superintendent—Mr. Paige has brought an enviable level of stability to the once-troubled district.("Observers Ponder Identity of Next Education Secretary," Oct. 4, 2000.)

The early days of his tenure following his 1994 appointment were marked by tensions with Houston's Hispanic community, which had felt excluded from the selection process for his job; divisions over labor-management issues; the 1996 defeat of a school construction bond; and a critical state audit of the district's financial management.

Under Mr. Paige's stewardship, however, the district made a major commitment to ensuring English literacy for all students, with a strong emphasis on phonics-based instruction; linked principals' job contracts to student performance; and improved management by contracting with private businesses for many nonacademic services.

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