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Published in Print: November 17, 2004, as A 2nd Term for Paige Remains Uncertain

A 2nd Term for Paige Remains Uncertain

Secretary Likes Job, But White House May Seek Change

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“President Accepts Paige's Resignation,” Nov. 15, 2004.

Predicting the presidential Cabinet shuffle is one of the most time-honored post-election guessing games in Washington, and the destiny of Secretary of Education Rod Paige may be prime fodder for the latest contest.

Several well-connected observers who spoke on the condition of anonymity said last week that they believed that Mr. Paige’s exit from the Department of Education was likely, and that the front-runner to replace him was Margaret Spellings, President Bush’s chief domestic-policy adviser.

But don’t expect Mr. Paige to step down voluntarily, said John Danielson, his former chief of staff at the department, who is now a principal with the Dilenschneider Group, a management-consulting firm based in New York City.

“Secretary Paige is enjoying the job,” Mr. Danielson said. “He is not somebody who has grown up in and around Washington, and he had to have time to learn it. Now he likes it.”

The president’s decision on whether to retain the 72-year-old former Houston schools superintendent as secretary could send a signal about how the Bush administration plans to handle education policy in its second term, especially when it comes to the No Child Left Behind Act. A fresh face could signal a renewed effort to reach out to those in the field who have been critical of the law, while keeping Mr. Paige in place could tell people to expect more of the same.

Pluses and Minuses

Since President Bush signed his administration’s flagship education program into law in early 2002, Mr. Paige has been the law’s public face to a large extent. The No Child Left Behind law, a reauthorization of the nearly 40-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, greatly expanded the federal role in bringing about improved student achievement.

As a former superintendent of one of the nation’s largest districts, Mr. Paige has a real-world education background that conferred instant credibility, said Krista Kafer, an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige
At a March awards ceremony, President Bush stands with Secretary of Commerce Donald L. Evans, center, who now plans to leave the Cabinet. It remains unclear whether Mr. Bush will retain Secretary of Education Rod Paige, right, for the president's second term.
—File photo by Charles Dharapak/AP

“His experience is amazing,” Ms. Kafer said. “I’m not sure that could be said about everyone who has served in that position.”

But he’s also seen as a somewhat clumsy speaker, and his tenure has included wrangling with the states over implementing the nuts-and-bolts requirements of the NCLB law. Mr. Paige carries baggage from those battles.

In his most famous gaffe, Mr. Paige referred to the National Education Association earlier this year as a “terrorist organization” for resisting requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act. He apologized for the remark.

“Secretary Paige wants to stay for about a year,” said one Washington expert, adding that Mr. Paige has apparently told his staff that the White House has agreed to that timetable. But, the source added, “there are folks at the White House who are not happy with that and are trying to undo that.”

Richard W. Riley is the only education secretary who has stayed for two full presidential terms, having served all eight years under President Clinton. President Reagan’s third education secretary, Lauro F. Cavazos, was kept on for two years under Mr. Reagan’s successor, President George H.W. Bush.

Susan Aspey, an Education Department spokeswoman, said she had no information about potential turnover.

“That’s a White House call,” she said in an e-mail. Mr. Paige and Deputy Secretary Eugene W. Hickok were unavailable for comment. Ms. Spellings could not be reached for comment, and the White House would not comment.

‘The Shadow Secretary’

Ms. Spellings has spent the past four years as an adviser to the president on domestic-policy issues, particularly education. She is often cited as one of the behind-the-scenes architects of the No Child Left Behind law. In Texas, Ms. Spellings was then-Gov. Bush’s education adviser, and she formerly was a lobbyist in Austin for the Texas Association of School Boards.

“She has been the shadow secretary of education for the last four years anyway,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington group that generally supports the administration on education. “It would be logical for her to step out of the shadows.”

Mr. Finn, who was an assistant education secretary under President Reagan, suggested that putting Ms. Spellings at the Education Department’s helm could shift the interaction between the White House and the agency to a more traditional model.

“In past administrations … there appeared to me to be a more collaborative or collegial relationship between the top people [at the department] and the White House,” he said. “This White House issues orders, and the Education Department follows them.”

It would be unusual, but not unheard of, for a White House policy adviser to move to a Cabinet position, said Paul C. Light, a political science professor at New York University who specializes in the federal appointment process. Noting that on the campaign trail, Mr. Bush held up the No Child Left Behind Act as a key domestic-policy accomplishment, such a shift “could be a reward to the White House person who was behind it,” Mr. Light said.

A Unity Pick?

One senior Education Department official whose name was once among those being considered for the top job is the agency’s second-in-command, Deputy Secretary Hickok.

Sources say it’s unlikely, though, that Mr. Hickok would get nominate, and that he would probably leave the department.

“Hickok is perceived even among moderate Republicans as extremely ideological,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, the director of education policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank affiliated with centrist Democrats.

Along with Mr. Hickok, other high-level political appointees are likely to leave the department, one knowledgeable official said.

President Bush has pledged to reach out to those who voted against him. Appointing a Democrat as education secretary would do that, Mr. Rotherham said.

Some possibilities of Democrats who might be in line with Mr. Bush’s goals for education would include former Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia, who led education reform efforts there; New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, and Alan D. Bersin, the superintendent of the San Diego schools.

“If you really want to build some bipartisan unity, find a Democrat who is generally in agreement with the overall thrust of these reform efforts,” Mr. Rotherham said.

Mr. Light of NYU said he believes any change in the post would take place soon.

“If you’re still in the Cabinet after you’ve had your Thanksgiving meal,” he said, “the odds are that you’re going to be there for another Thanksgiving.”

Assistant Editor Erik W. Robelen contributed to this story.

Vol. 24, Issue 12, Pages 24,27

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The article gave the incorrect age for Secretary Paige. He is 71.

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