Secretary of Education Rod Paige is now the top spokesperson for the new President's education plans. But the Bush Administration is bulging with Cabinet members, advisors, and consultants who have a dubious history of disservice to public education.
As the first African-American head of the Education Department and a sitting urban superintendent from Houston, Paige was treated gently by both the media and Congressional Democrats during his confirmation hearings. But his Texas record makes it clear why he was chosen to bring Bush's punitive accountability system to a national stage.
Paige, a former college dean who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the response time of football linemen, was a longtime Republican activist and a member of the Houston school board when he was appointed superintendent in 1994. The move angered the city's Latino population, which felt it had been overlooked, and led to new state regulations prohibiting sitting board members from moving directly to top administrative posts.
Paige's tenure as superintendent was marked by efforts to privatize or contract out not only custodial, payroll, and food services, but also educational services like "alternative schools" for students with "discipline problems." Hundreds of such students were removed from Houston high schools. They were also excluded from the state's TAAS testing, a move which helped boost the scores upon which so much of Paige's and Bush's reputation as school reformers is based.
Paige helped design the test-driven polices that reflect the negative impact TAAS testing had on Texas schools. He put principals on "performance contracts" that relied heavily on TAAS scores. By the time Paige left, Houston's graduation rate ranked in the bottom ten of the nation's 100 largest school districts. (Six of the worst 14 graduations rates are in Texas cities.) According to one researcher, "fewer than 60 percent of the African-American and Latino kids who begin 9th grade in a Texas public high school make it to graduation." This strategy of "losing" large numbers of Black and Latino students is one of the main ways Paige and other Texas superintendents "closed the achievement gap."