Federal

Paige Is Expected to Leave Education Secretary’s Post

By Michelle R. Davis & Erik W. Robelen — November 12, 2004 4 min read
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U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige appears to be on his way out of President Bush’s Cabinet.

The Associated Press late in the afternoon of Nov. 12 quoted an unnamed Bush administration official as saying: “The secretary has been looking at leaving, and he’s been in discussion with the White House about the right time to do so.”

And several education policy experts in Washington indicated to Education Week that they had learned that Mr. Paige would not be serving in the president’s second term.

A White House spokeswoman declined to confirm the rumors about Mr. Paige on Nov. 12, saying there had been “no announcement made.”

Many observers have said that the front-runner to replace Mr. Paige was Margaret Spellings, President Bush’s chief domestic-policy adviser.

While the administration official quoted by the AP indicated that the decision to leave was Mr. Paige’s, others are suggesting that is not the case.

Two education experts outside the Bush administration told Education Week on Nov. 12 they had heard that White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, Jr., had phoned Mr. Paige recently to ask him to resign.

“I hear that he has been told that he’s going,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Public Face

Secretary Paige, 71, who previously was Houston’s superintendent of schools, joined the Cabinet at the start of President Bush’s term. Since Mr. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002, the secretary has been the law’s public face to a large extent. As a former district superintendent, he has a real-world education background that brought him instant credibility, said Krista Kafer, an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

“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 of the federal school improvement 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 what he saw as its obstructionist tactics to resist the No Child Left Behind Act. Although the secretary later apologized, the fallout has lingered.

Earlier in the week, some sources had said Secretary Paige would like to stay in his post for the time being.

“Secretary Paige is enjoying his job,” said John Danielson, his former chief of staff at the department, who is now a principal with the Dilenschneider Group, a management-consulting firm in New York City. “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.”

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, was not available to comment on the Nov. 12 AP story, but she said earlier in the week that she had no information about whether there would be a turnover at the top of the department.

“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 also could not be reached for 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 policy group. “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 helm of the Education Department could shift the interaction between the White House and the agency to a more traditional role.

“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 accomplishment, such a shift “could be a reward to the White House person who was behind it,” Mr. Light said.

Any new nominee to lead the department would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Other high-level political appointees in the Education Department are also expected to leave the department, including Deputy Secretary Hickok, according to several education experts in Washington.

“I don’t think people are sitting there waiting for the dominoes to fall,” said one source. “They’re making independent decisions.”

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