Federal

Paige Steps Into GOP Convention Spotlight

By Michelle R. Davis & Erik W. Robelen — October 05, 2004 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As Republicans prepared for their party’s convention in New York City this week, Secretary of Education Rod Paige was scheduled for a prime-time speaking slot to talk up President Bush’s signature education accomplishment.

Mr. Paige was on a slate of Aug. 31 speakers that was also to include first lady Laura Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Party officials hoped the secretary, who is African-American, would help broaden the GOP’s appeal to minority voters and inspire viewers with his passion for the No Child Left Behind Act.

Some political observers, meanwhile, were speculating about whether the secretary’s speech would be a look forward to continued service if President Bush is re-elected—or a swan song for the 71-year-old Mr. Paige.

“I expect wholesale changes in [the president’s] Cabinet” if Mr. Bush wins a second term in November, said Thomas E. Mann, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

“Some will leave because they are tired and anxious to move on,” he said, “others because the president and his advisers believe they can do better. … I would not be surprised to see fresh leadership come to the Department of Education.”

Education was expected to get more attention at the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 Republican National Convention than it did in July at the Democrats’ gathering in Boston, where classroom issues were largely overshadowed by national security and the economy. (“Kerry Aiming for the Center on Education,” Aug. 11, 2004.)

From the helm of the Education Department, Mr. Paige has overseen the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, which poses ambitious demands for raising student achievement and deals out increasingly strong consequences for schools that fail to make the grade.

Taking on the Critics

Despite criticism of the law from some quarters, the former Houston schools superintendent has relentlessly preached his belief in the bipartisan measure.

In a July essay in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Paige blasted leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People over their criticism of parts of the law and its consequences.

Mr. Paige sees “No Child Left Behind as the next important phase of the civil rights movement, and his concern was that civil rights leaders were doing a disservice by rejecting the law,” said Susan Traiman, the director of education and workforce policy for the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based lobbying group for chief executives of many of the nation’s largest corporations. “I think that rationale for No Child Left Behind is one that the administration wants to put at the center of the debate.”

Mr. Paige’s prominent speaking role at Madison Square Garden this week also gives the GOP a chance to engage black voters and possibly draw them closer to the party. In recent decades, African-Americans have voted overwhelmingly Democratic, and Republicans have said they’re renewing an effort to draw more racial diversity to their party.

“They want to increase their percentage of the African- American vote, and he’s something they think can help,” said Jack Jennings, a former top aide to House Democrats on education and now the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research organization. “It’s better for the administration to have an African-American take on the critics than someone else.”

But Mr. Paige also brings some baggage to the podium. Some say he hasn’t always been a strong public speaker, and they question his political skills. In February, he made a serious gaffe that has continued to reverberate among teachers: He called the National Education Association—which has sharply criticized the No Child Left Behind Act—a “terrorist organizaton.” He later apologized for the comment.

“He’s a nice guy who is fairly well liked everywhere, but was never really well-versed in the way Washington works and is not always in a lot of situations the most effective public speaker,” said one education lobbyist, who asked not to be named.

In the ramped-up speculation over Mr. Paige’s post-Nov. 2 future, views differ on whether the department would see a changing of the guard if President Bush is re-elected.

“In all likelihood, Rod Paige has done his duty and will probably retire,” said Susan B. Neuman, a former assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the current Bush administration, who left Washington last year. “Even among [the No Child Left Behind law’s] most enthusiastic supporters, there is a view that there are some things that are awry, and that some new regulations need to be put in place to work more smoothly.”

Secretary Spellings?

Some education insiders say they’ve already received information that Mr. Paige would not return for a second term.

“In the case of Paige, we’ve been told pretty directly that he will not be the secretary of education under a second Bush administration,” said one education lobbyist.

When asked about the secretary’s plans if the president defeats Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in November, Mr. Paige’s press secretary, Susan Aspey, replied: “The secretary has said that he serves at the pleasure of the president. He’s [too] busy working with the states to implement the law right now to speculate.”

Rumors abound as to who might become secretary in a second term. The names mentioned run the gamut from Margaret Spellings, Mr. Bush’s domestic-policy adviser, to Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok, to state education chiefs and district leaders.

But the decision to stay or go may be one that Mr. Paige has to make on his own.

“My guess is that Bush would have no desire to make a change in education if he could keep Paige there, … partly because Paige has carried a lot of heavy water for him,” said Norman J. Ornstein, an expert on politics at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

“It’s up to Paige,” Mr. Jennings said. “I think he enjoys the role, … the spotlight. It’s a star position, especially in education right now. Everybody wants to talk about No Child Left Behind.”

And if Mr. Bush asked Mr. Paige to leave, Mr. Jennings said, “Bush would be criticized for asking the second most prominent black American to leave the Cabinet.”

Mr. Paige is one of three Cabinet secretaries who are black. The others are Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and a relative newcomer, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as Paige Steps Into GOP Convention Spotlight

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Electric School Buses Get a Boost From New State and Federal Policies
New federal standards for emissions could accelerate the push to produce buses that run on clean energy.
3 min read
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet reduces over 120,000 pounds of carbon emissions and leverages The Mobility House's smart charging and energy management system.
A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency sets higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles. By 2032, it projects, 40 percent of new medium heavy-duty vehicles, including school buses, will be electric.
Business Wire via AP
Federal What Would Happen to K-12 in a 2nd Trump Term? A Detailed Policy Agenda Offers Clues
A conservative policy agenda could offer the clearest view yet of K-12 education in a second Trump term.
8 min read
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 9, 2024, in Rome, Ga. Allies of the former president have assembled a detailed policy agenda for every corner of the federal government with the idea that it would be ready for a conservative president to use at the start of a new term next year.
Mike Stewart/AP
Federal Opinion Student Literacy Rates Are Concerning. How Can We Turn This Around?
The ranking Republican senator on the education committee wants to hear from educators and families about making improvements.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Biden Calls for Teacher Pay Raises, Expanded Pre-K in State of the Union
President Joe Biden highlighted a number of his education priorities in a high-stakes speech as he seeks a second term.
5 min read
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on March 7, 2024, in Washington.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on March 7, 2024, in Washington.
Shawn Thew/Pool via AP