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Paige is Graduation Speaker

The federal No Child Left Behind law has changed the culture of education and won't go away despite criticism, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said.

Paige is in Grand Rapids today to speak at the Grand Valley State University graduation, where more than 1,400 students will receive degrees.

Paige, the son of a principal and a librarian, said the law has forced schools to consider the needs of every student rather than be content with high scores on standardized tests.

"We're in this for the long haul. It's not going away, and anyone who thinks that is mistaken. This is a bipartisan effort."

Schools are required to test students in most grades, and improve upon those grades each year or face sanctions that could include a state takeover. The law requires steadily rising school averages and improvement among students by ethnic groups and other divisions.

Educators complain the law forces districts to spend too much time and money working on tests and compiling the data. Others argue that the plan unfairly penalizes high-scoring schools by forcing changes even when more than 90 percent of students are performing well.

Another concern is the rule that more than 95 percent of a school's students be tested, even those who don't speak English.

Forest Hills Northern High School, for example, was placed on a federal "watch list" because 94 percent of its 2003 graduates were tested instead of 95 percent.

There have been calls from politicians to scale back the requirements. But Paige, former superintendent of Houston schools, believes there's no chance No Child Left Behind will be weakened by Congress.

"It's a different era," he said. "We're talking about excellence, helping all children, accountability. ... You can see the changes in the educational culture. Our schools were doing a wonderful job providing a world-class education for some children. But not for all of them. It's become a civil-rights issue.

"In the old days, we'd look at a school with high scores and that would be good enough," Paige said. "But now we are looking at all the subgroups and looking to see if those children are performing, too."

He makes no apologies for the time and expense of the tests, saying the exams are important for accountability and Washington is chipping in. Michigan gets $3.6 billion from the federal government for education, a 47 percent increase from when President Bush took office, according to Paige.

"How do you know how well students are doing, where they need to improve, unless you're testing them?" he said. "If you're not doing that, then you are operating in the dark."

Paige has known the Bush family since the late 1970s.

"Education has always been one of his core issues," Paige said of the president. "I think a lot of that comes from his parents."

— Dave Murray
'No Child Left Behind' law 'not going away,' education chief says
Grand Rapids Press


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