Calling his work a “labor of love,” U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced earlier this month that he was stepping down at the end of President Bush’s first term in order to return to Texas and devote time to a “personal project.” Shortly thereafter, President Bush announced that White House Domestic Policy Adviser Margaret Spellings would take Paige’s place.
“Rod Paige has been at the forefront of fundamentally reforming and improving our nation’s public education system so that no child is left behind in America,” the president said in a statement. “His passion for taking on the status quo and fighting for reform underscores his strong commitment to our country’s young people and his desire to give them a brighter future.”
As the top-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Education, Paige led the implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and campaigned tirelessly on its behalf. On the two-year anniversary of the act’s signing, Paige portrayed NCLB as the “next logical step” to theBrown v. Board Supreme Court case that ended racial segregation in the nation’s public schools:
No Child Left Behind addresses the latent segregation, de facto apartheid, that’s emerging in some of our educational settings. Like Brown, No Child Left Behind faced resistance. But if we have the will this law will have a powerful and healing impact on our society . . . This country does not yet provide equal opportunities for millions of children. That is why the No Child Left Behind Act is so important. After 50 years we still have a lot of work to do.
However, despite Paige’s public visibility and the time and effort he put into defending NCLB and trumpeting its successes, many observers, according to the Washington Post, “believed that the real power over education policy lay in the White House, particularly with (Margaret) Spellings, who advised Bush when he was the governor of Texas.” In naming Spellings as his new secretary of education, Bush said that “the issue of education is close to my heart, and on this vital issue there’s no one I trust more than Margaret Spellings.”
Bush stressed that education would remain a priority during his second term, and that the focus on high schools that he promised during the campaign would become a reality. “We’ve made great progress in our schools,” he said, “and there is more work to do. Margaret Spellings and I are determined to extend the high standards and accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act to all of America’s public high schools. We must ensure that a high school diploma is a sign of real achievement, so that our young people have the tools to go to college and to fill the jobs of the twenty-first century.”
Spellings pledged to work to make America’s schools the finest in the world and stressed the importance of a strong education to the future of the country. “I am a product of our public schools,” she said. “I believe in America’s schools, what they mean to each child, to each future president or future domestic policy adviser, and to the strength of our great country.”
Secretary Paige’s resignation letter is available at http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2004/11/11152004.html.
President Bush’s statement on the appointment of Margaret Spellings as the U.S. secretary of education is available athttp://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/11/20041117-4.html.