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Quick! Somebody Give Paige a Cue Card

Secretary of Education Roderick R. Paige had the crowd scratching its head recently when he appeared before a Senate Appropriations panel to talk about his budget requests.

Everything went smoothly at first at the March 27 Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education. The opening statements were predictably boring. Then Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), subcommittee chairman, said he was concerned about cuts in rural education. "Why are you cutting rural education?" Specter asked. "How can we go back to justify that to our constituents?"

"Mr. Chairman," Paige said. "Let me respond to that by using Alaska as an example." Alaska is home to Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R), who had left the hearing after giving an opening statement in which he raised questions about accountability on academic performance within the standards being proposed.

"But the same thing will be true for many of the other rural states, and we are learning a lot about rural states as we are moving now to having discussions specifically about that topic, about rural education," Paige continued. "The various representatives from these states have had a chance to sit down with us and we with them to learn about their idiosyncratic issues.

"We have learned an awful lot about these states, and we are continuing to learn how we can be helpful with the states. They have enlisted the help of very capable accountability experts," Paige said, consulting a cue card to give the proper answer.

The states "are making noble efforts to include all students in the accountability," he went on. "Alaska has proposed a comprehensive accountability plan designed to hold all schools, even small schools, accountable, and what they are finding is a Department of Education that is willing to serve as partners with them to help overcome some of these difficulties, and the same thing is true with Nebraska." A fine state, but no one on the committee or subcommittee is from there.

Specter seemed as perplexed as anyone. "Mr. Secretary," he asked Paige, "how does accountability bear on eliminating the funding for a program?" Rather than wait for another lengthy response, Specter said: "Mr. Secretary, would you give us a written answer there? . . . We have a very limited amount of time."

"Absolutely," Paige said. "I look forward to that because I think there are answers."

Gotta be on a card somewhere.

— Al Kamen
Washington Post
Confusion on Cue





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