Secretary of Education Rod Paige this month condemned leaders of the NAACP for opposing the federal No Child Left Behind Act and questioned the organization’s commitment to improving the education of African-American children.
Mr. Paige, who is the first black U.S. education secretary, made his comments in an opinion column published in TheWall Street Journal on July 15. That week, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held its annual convention in Philadelphia.
President Bush declined an invitation to speak to the group, saying that it has shown a lack of respect for him. The NAACP then blasted the president for his refusal, setting off a firestorm of fault-finding.
Mr. Paige, who denounced the NAACP’s criticism of the president in his column, wrote that he was puzzled by the group’s opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act, which Mr. Bush signed into law in 2002.
“How a civil rights organization could characterize NCLB as ‘disproportionately hurting’ African-American children is mindboggling, since it is specifically designed to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their peers,” wrote Mr. Paige, who noted that he himself is a lifelong member of the group.
“Yet, the NAACP would prefer to attack it merely because of its origins in the Bush administration. How sad for black children everywhere,” Mr. Paige wrote of the law.
Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP’s board, whom Mr. Paige chastised as spreading “hateful and untruthful rhetoric” about Republicans and President Bush, said in an interview last week that he was taken aback by the secretary’s “angry language.”
“You can’t expect anything different from a man who called the National Education Association terrorists,” Mr. Bond said, referring to a comment Mr. Paige made earlier this year. (“Furor Lingers Over Paige’s Union Remark,” March 3, 2004.)
The NAACP does not oppose the No Child Left Behind law, but Mr. Bond said the organization does fault the Bush administration for not funding the legislation at the full authorized level. He said the NAACP also is concerned that the law has “fostered a kind of drill-and-kill curriculum” that has led to teaching to the test, rather than instructing students to think critically.
Still, Mr. Bond said, the law has generated much-needed discussions about how to address the problems facing public schools.
John H. Jackson, the national director of education for the NAACP, said that while President Bush is trying to “go it alone” by imposing a federal law on states, the organization is working with states to improve black students’ learning.
Although it was unclear who within the NAACP had said that the law would disproportionately hurt African-American students, Mr. Jackson said that without more resources, the results could prove devastating for black children.
A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as Paige Blasts NAACP Leaders’ ‘Hateful’ Rhetoric on Bush