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New Chief to Face Growing Resistance to Law

WASHINGTON, Four years ago, the White House called on Rod Paige to spearhead its drive to overhaul America's schools through a far-reaching new education law: testing students frequently to highlight persistent gaps in achievement between whites and minorities, demanding steady improvements in performance from the nation's poorest schools, and proposing tough consequences for those that failed.

But as the new regulations have taken hold, Dr. Paige's successor will have to deal with growing resistance to President Bush's signature education initiative, known as No Child Left Behind. By this year, nearly 30,000 schools have been labeled low-performing under the law, and calls for revising the law have grown across the political spectrum. At the same time, Mr. Bush has signaled plans to extend annual standardized testing to high schools.

Groups representing education advocates, administrators and teachers have proposed reworking the law's formulas for judging schools, under which some studies now predict that nearly all will fall short by 2014, when all students are to have mastered reading and math.

Conservatives, meanwhile, see an opportunity to reopen the drive for expanding school choice in a variety of ways, including through taxpayer-financed vouchers for children from failing public schools to attend private schools. Last week, the White House began canvassing some education groups and Republican supporters for names of possible successors to Dr. Paige. The person most frequently mentioned was Margaret Spellings, who is Mr. Bush's chief domestic policy adviser. But some conservatives have raised questions about Ms. Spellings's willingness to advance vouchers and other initiatives dear to their hearts.

In his resignation letter on Monday, Dr. Paige listed his accomplishments in Washington, topped by his success in earning the Education Department three "clean" audits, for the first time in the department's history, and in bringing down the default rate on college loans. Dr. Paige wrote that No Child Left Behind had been "well launched," adding, "All across the nation, the educational dialogue is now about results, and less about inputs."

In a separate note, he predicted that the next report of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often nicknamed the nation's report card, "will show that reading scores of our young people have catapulted to a record high," thanks to the president's $1 billion-a-year early reading initiative.

The basis for the optimism, however, was not clear. So far, reading scores among elementary school students, including poor and minority children, have dipped slightly under No Child Left Behind, within the test's margin of error, after rising significantly in the year before the law was passed. The next national assessment that could produce results for comparison will not be given until February 2005.

In his resignation letter, Dr. Paige did not discuss his plans in any detail. He said only that for now, he planned to return to Texas and work on a "personal project" that he had begun before becoming education secretary. Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said Dr. Paige was referring to plans to remodel his home in Houston.

— Diana Jean Schemo
New York Times


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