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NCLB Outrages

An Interview with Rod Paige: About No Child Left Behind

Ohanian Comment: I am of two minds about posting this self-serving piece of offal. Forty-nine percent of me prefers to bury it. I refuse to expend any energy commenting on it. Softball questions, self-serving answers: that's it.

Interview by Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Delia Stafford
Haberman Foundation

Biography of Roderick R. Paige, Ed.D.
U.S. Secretary of Education (2001-2005)

During his tenure at the U.S. Department of Education from 2001 to 2005, Secretary Roderick R. Paige was a fierce and innovative champion of education reform who led the way in setting new standards of achievement for all students in our education system. He spearheaded the implementation of the historic No Child Left Behind Act, with its goal of reinvigorating America's education system.

Dr. Paige has devoted his life to transforming the state of education by improving the way that children learn on all levels, a passion that has manifested itself most recently when he founded the bi-partisan Chartwell Education Group, LLC. This group is a consulting firm devoted to offering solutions to the 21 st Century challenges faced by the public and private sector enterprises that focus on pre-K, K-12 and post-secondary education, both in the United States and throughout the world.

Prior to his time at Chartwell, and after he left the administration in 2005, Dr. Paige served as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. There he was able to explore a more global perspective of education. As he said: “Civilizations rise and fall depending upon the quality of education.”

His appointment by President George W. Bush as the seventh U.S. Secretary of Education, and the first school superintendent to serve in this position, was a signal honor for Dr. Paige, the son of a principal and a librarian in the public school system. Born in 1933 in segregated Monticello, Mississippi, Dr. Paige's accomplishments speak of his commitment to education. He earned a Bachelor's degree from Jackson State University in his home state. He then earned both a Master's and a Doctoral degree from Indiana University.

Dr. Paige began his career as a teacher and coach. He served for a decade as dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University (TSU), working to ensure future educators receive the training and expertise necessary to succeed in the classroom. He also established the University's Center for Excellence in Urban Education, a research facility that concentrates on issues related to instruction and management in urban school systems.

Elected to the Board of Education of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) in 1989, Dr. Paige was a trustee and an officer until 1994, when he became Superintendent of HISD, the nation's seventh largest school district. Inside Houston Magazine named him as one of “Houston's most powerful 25 people” for helping guide the city's growth and prosperity. He was also honored as an outstanding educator by the Council of the Great City Schools (2000) and the National Association of Black School Educators (2001). His innovative practices also led Dr. Paige to being named the National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2001.

What impact do you think ‘No Child Left Behind' has had?

I think that the No Child Left Behind Act was a turning point in public education in America and the most significant change in federal public education policy since the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

It allows us to see what is really going on in the classroom and to focus in an effective manner on closing the achievement gap among students by setting measurable standards for them and their teachers and making them all accountable for getting results.

Furthermore, by requiring disaggregation of data, performance can no longer be hidden in “averages.” Standards must be met by each and every child, their teachers and their schools and progress reports must show what is being done to improve the quality of the system for everyone. Thus, NCLB allows us to see more clearly into a system that had been opaque.

Do you think the initiative and the impetus will continue?

NCLB is already indelibly etched into our nation's education system and the public will not allow us to turn back the clock. As we go forward the more information about student and school performance that is made available will make it more difficult for the system not to operate in an effective and efficient manner; the public will not stand for it. As a result, no child in this country – no matter his economic standing – will be deprived of the opportunity to receive a quality education.

Could you please describe your new company affiliation and what exactly you're going to be doing?

Chartwell Education Group was created to help improve the abilities of those in the field of education in the United States and throughout the world, both in the private and public sectors, to deliver education services more effectively, efficiently and successfully. Thus, we provide experienced counsel and advice to schools and school systems, businesses that operate in the field of education, philanthropic organizations and foreign governments and institutions seeking to raise standards for education in their nations.

With the help of my former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education, John Danielson, we've been able to assemble an extraordinarily talented and experienced group of professionals at Chartwell – individuals who know education and are also experienced in business. They are passionate about what we are doing and help our clients create solutions that work for them and the students they serve.

What do you perceive as the major reasons why school districts become failing school districts? What's going on in those districts?

I think the first place to look is at the top. If a school district is not performing or under performing the fault usually lies at the administrative level. And so, you need to look at how the big decisions are made, how the leadership was chosen and established, how resources are allocated and what policies are in place. You must also determine whether or not the district has a strong and focused commitment to student achievement.

Does No Child Left Behind address the needs of the increasing number of kids with exceptionalities, disabilities, whatever politically correct word you want to use?

The No Child Left Behind Act is focused on ALL children, which includes children with disabilities. In fact, it is one of the important elements of this act. NCLB is intended to make sure children with disabilities get the attention that they need and, contrary to what some people think, failure to measure the progress of children with disabilities is a major barrier to their improvement.

So, the No Child Left Behind Act helps to make certain that these children get the attention they need and deserve.

We're on the same page now because the differences between I.D.E.A. and the ‘No Child Left Behind' has often been referred to the ‘clash of the titans.'

I think that is because they are two different laws and require some coordination. There are many similarities and many differences between NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that need to be examined more closely so that we might create more effective synergies. Also, we don't want the two acts bumping into each other.

What are you most proud of in terms of your accomplishments via a vis the No Child Left Behind?

I'm very proud of the role I played in implementing the No Child Left Behind Act, an important idea with a noble purpose that President Bush offered to the nation. The success of this law will help all of the citizens of the United States by allowing all of our children access to a quality education.

There have always been pockets of excellence across the United States and we have rightfully bragged about the contributions made by those students who have been allowed to excel and succeed. That's because their success has been a product of the effectiveness of our education system. Now we need to give all of our kids the chance to succeed, including a whole subset of students who are not being effective but have the ability to improve. Until now they have been essentially invisible.

The No Child Left Behind Act let's us see these children and to identify and fulfill their needs. This process is particularly effective as the result of the law's disaggregation clause because it sheds light on needs that are not being fulfilled and so I'm proud of that. And, I'm proud of, as I indicated earlier, the change of direction we've taken, the change of culture we have effected and the whole idea of accountability.

I think some of the finest people in our nation are those who lead our schools and who teach our children. And, I feel confident that these wonderful, committed and capable people, who are our nation's educators, will come to view NCLB as a much needed, long overdue enhancement of the American system of education.

We have to commend you for trying to change a very entrenched culture, and you leave a legacy for the history books in American Education. How do you want to be remembered?

I guess I would like to be remembered as someone who permitted himself to pursue an important mission and that's the mission of the education of all of our children. My specific interest was in closing the achievement gap in education, which I think is our nation's greatest social issue and maybe even it's most important economic issue. The United States needs all of the resources it can muster in order to successfully deal with the new realities of Global Economics. If we empower all of our children to succeed we, as a nation, will succeed.

The fact is that if we don't change the dynamics of our education system to allow equal opportunity for all of our children to be successful in life no matter what their ethnic or economic backgrounds may be, we will be doing a great disservice to our nation.

What question have we neglected to ask you about No Child Left Behind?

You have not asked about the opposition NCLB has faced and there has been a lot of opposition, much of it stemming from the law's intent. Some of it has been deliberate and some of it has been simply the result of people not knowing enough about the law and its potential for making America a better place for all of us.

But, in a sense this is good because it has made us work harder and understand more clearly how change works in a complex society such as that in United States. Just because it is the right thing to do, or just because it's the best thing to do, it does not necessarily mean that it's going to get done. People have to be convinced that it's the best thing to do! You have to be convinced that it works. So, as we go forward we will see more and more people come to the realization that the No Child Left Behind Act is the most significant educational endeavor undertaken by the federal government since1965.

What last words of wisdom or what do you want to end up saying to the teachers of America?

I would just repeat what General Omar Bradley said: “The teacher is the real soldier of democracy. Others can defend it, but only he can make it work.”

When I use the term, teacher, I use it broadly to include social workers, nutritionists, and administrators because they are a part of a system that needs both attention and recognition. These individuals are some of the smartest people in the world. They are in our schools and they are managing our schools day to day.

The system of education that was put into place during the first two decades of the last century is not suited to the needs of the 21 st Century—not for our children and not for our society. Thus, it needs to embrace change if our children and our nation are to prosper and I believe that the No Child Left Behind Act is a catalyst for that change. I believe it is a positive influence not just for the students that will benefit from the law, but for educators as well.

— Michael F. Shaughnessy & Rod Paige


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