Education Secretary Plans to Resign
New York Times
November 12, 2004

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 - Education Secretary Rod Paige, who has spent the last four years bringing President Bush's signature law on education to classrooms across the nation, plans to leave the Bush cabinet in the near future, administration officials said today.

The unofficial announcement makes Dr. Paige, a son of segregation in Mississippi who rose to become the first African-American secretary of education, the third cabinet official who will not stay on for a second Bush term; Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said earlier in the week that they were resigning.

Dr. Paige "has been looking at leaving, and has been talking with the White House about the right time to do so," said an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, since no official announcement has yet been made by the White House or the Education Department. Separately, a second administration official confirmed the discussions.

"Obviously, we have a lot of unfinished business, but we've accomplished a lot," the first official said, adding that Dr. Paige was "leaving of his own accord.''

Arriving in Washington from Houston, where he ran the nation's seventh-largest school system from 1994 to 2001, Dr. Paige became, at age 67, the first superintendent of a large urban district to become the nation's chief school officer. A Bush loyalist, Dr. Paige has been a passionate advocate of the new education law, No Child Left Behind, likening critics to segregationists and saying they were "on the wrong side of history." In talks and interviews, he has been careful not to publicly part ways with the Bush administration.

But that fervor has also created political embarrassment for the administration. Earlier this year, Dr. Paige called the nation's largest teacher's union, the National Education Association, a "terrorist organization," accusing it of opposing No Child Left Behind with obstructionist tactics. He later apologized to teachers, but not to the organization.

As education secretary, Dr. Paige, a former football coach whose doctoral thesis explored the reaction times of linemen, has presided over a department with a $53 billion budget and once unimaginable powers over what goes on in American classrooms.

In an interview earlier this year, Dr. Paige said that he counted among his major victories getting all states to submit their formal plans for how they would comply with No Child Left Behind by last year's deadline. He noted that when he took office, seven years after Congress passed the 1994 precursor to No Child Left Behind, only 11 states had submitted such plans.

Under the Bush law, schools must test students every year in grades three to eight and show that each subgroup - blacks, Latinos and children with limited English, for example - is making adequate progress. Failure to show such progress results in a range of progressively more serious sanctions to schools. Critics, including many Democrats who supported passage of the legislation, have complained that the Bush administration has not provided adequate financing to achieve the measure's goals.

In the interview last January, Dr. Paige also said that on his watch, the Education Department had managed to pass two audits - something had done only once before in two decades and that he said were crucial to its credibility.

Dr. Paige, the oldest of five children of a Mississippi librarian and school principal, earned his first diploma from the Lawrence County Training High School in Monticello. He later graduated with a bachelor's degree from Jackson State University in Mississippi and received his doctorate in physical education from Indiana University.

He began his career as a head football coach at several colleges, including Texas Southern in Houston, where he was also the athletic director. But after catching the eye of the university president with his organizational skills, he wound up leading the School of Education at Texas Southern as its dean from 1984 to 1990. A year earlier, Dr. Paige had been elected to the Houston school board, and in 1994 he was was appointed superintendent.

George W. Bush became a fan when he was governor of Texas and Dr. Paige, a fellow Republican, was leading the Houston school system.