Federal File

May 21, 2003 1 min read

Reality Check

Secretary of Education Rod Paige trekked to the Alaskan Bush this month to see how rural schools are dealing with the demands of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.

Instead of a yellow school bus, Mr. Paige took a National Guard Black Hawk helicopter to visit the village of Tuntutuliak and its 377 residents, 440 miles west of Anchorage, said his chief of staff, John Danielson, who joined Mr. Paige on the May 3-7 trip.

Mr. Paige wore a borrowed parka and rubber boots to stroll the town, where a thaw had turned the landscape to slush and mud. Residents walk around town on wooden boardwalks instead of sidewalks, Mr. Danielson said.

The secretary also took a chillier tour of Savoonga, a community on St. Lawrence Island, 40 miles from the Russian coast. There he and Mr. Danielson heard some of the town’s 686 residents praising the balmy, zero-degree spring weather. “We’re Texans. It’s like, ‘Whoa!’ ” Mr. Danielson said. “Forty degrees is pretty rough for us.”

The secretary got around on sleds pulled by four-wheelers or snowmobiles, and got to check out Savoonga’s version of a school bus: a four-wheeler with a sort of red wagon attached with space for eight small children.

He also got an opportunity to sample the local fare, including muktak, a staple involving the blubber and skin of walrus, Mr. Danielson said. “I think [Mr. Paige] might have put it on his plate, but I didn’t see him eat it,” Mr. Danielson conceded.

On the trip, Mr. Paige met teachers—some of whom sleep in their classrooms because of a lack of housing—and a principal who made his home in a school closet. He told the Associated Press that educators there were “heroic.”

Mr. Danielson said Mr. Paige has been to remote, rural schools in Nebraska and the Dakotas, but that the secretary would say that “what he experienced there [in Alaska] could not have been explained to him.”

“When you said ‘rural’ to me several days ago, it meant one thing,” Mr. Paige told the Associated Press. “When you say it to me now, it means a different thing.”

Does that mean Alaskans will get a pass on some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind? Mr. Danielson said those he spoke with in the bush don’t want one.

The response instead was “‘We recognize we have these issues and don’t know how to deal with them. Can you help us?’” Mr. Danielson said.

—Michelle R. Davis