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Reality Check

By Michelle R. Davis — March 29, 2005 1 min read
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Rod Paige Gets Used to Life After Serving in the Cabinet

Former Secretary of Education Rod Paige readily admits that it took some effort to adjust to “civilian” life.

Mr. Paige, who stepped down from the helm of the Department of Education in January, called the transition “really tough” during a chat in Washington after a March 15 panel discussion about the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“It was traumatic,” said a seemingly relaxed Mr. Paige, wearing his trademark cowboy boots. “I’m just getting my arms around it.”

Without a staff to manage his affairs, Mr. Paige said that during the first few weeks after leaving the department, he misplaced phone messages and accidentally deleted e-mails.

He also had to get used the tedious process of removing his shoes and emptying his pockets while going through airport security instead of being whisked through as a Cabinet member.

But Mr. Paige, who spends time at his homes in Houston and Washington, had been warned before his departure by one of his predecessors, Lamar Alexander, who served under President George H.W. Bush and is now a Republican senator from Tennessee.

“He said, ‘Don’t be surprised if you go to get into the car and you get into the passenger side,’ ” Mr. Paige said.

Mr. Paige’s untethered feelings didn’t last long, however. This month, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, located in Washington and the host of the ESEA panel, announced that Mr. Paige was coming on board as a public-policy scholar for six months.

He’ll continue studying and writing about an issue that has been his passion ever since his days as the superintendent of the Houston school district: the achievement gap between most minority students and their white peers.

“The issue for me is the achievement gap. It always has been. I’m personally offended by it,” Mr. Paige said. “I don’t accept the premise that this gap can’t be closed.”

And there is a real plus to becoming just a regular citizen instead of a Cabinet secretary, Mr. Paige said. He can now enjoy one of his favorite pastimes—browsing in bookstores—without any staff members reading over his shoulder or reminding him of his next appointment.

“It’s invigorating,” he said.

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