President George W. Bush’s December 29 nomination of Houston Independent School District Superintendent Roderick Paige as Education Secretary drew praise from a wide variety of interest groups, including congressional leaders, teacher unions, and school choice advocates. Bush introduced the 60-year-old black Republican as a “reformer, and someone who had a record of results, who understands that it’s important to set the highest of high standards.”
“He believes that every child can learn and every school can succeed in America,” said Bush. Paige, like Bush, supports publicly funded voucher programs to allow students from schools that do not succeed to attend private schools.
The Houston district, which Paige has led since 1994, has approximately 31,000 employees and 209,000 students, the seventh-largest in the nation, with 90 percent minority enrollment. From 1990 to 1994, Paige served as an elected trustee for the district, and before coming to Houston, he was dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University. He earned a master’s and doctorate in physical education from Indiana University and initially served as coach and athletic director at Texas Southern University.
During his superintendency in Houston, student achievement has shown dramatic gains. Scores on the state’s required test of academic skills rose from a passing rate of 37 percent to 73 percent. More than 80 percent of the district’s high school students passed the state writing test, up some 15 points from five years earlier. Almost 70 percent of the high school students passed the math test in 1998, up some 25 points from five years earlier. School violence in the district is down 20 percent since Paige took over.
“The bottom line is this,” said Paige when his nomination was announced: “When we set high standards for our schools and our children, and when we give our schools and our children the support they need and hold them accountable for results, public education can get the job done.”
Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, welcomed the Secretary-designate to Washington DC as an advocate of school choice, noting that Paige’s support for school choice in Houston had helped not only students but also the overall public school system. Connor said he looked forward to working with Paige to help pass legislation to enhance parental choice, such as Education Savings Accounts.
House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Bill Goodling (R-Pennsylvania) also had high praise for Paige’s leadership skills and experience, saying Bush made “a wise choice” for Secretary of Education. “If [Paige] can encourage the same gains in center-city America all across the nation, he will have served this country well,” said Goodling.
School choice advocate J.C. Bowman, director of education policy for the Nashville-based Tennessee Institute for Public Policy, praised Paige as “a bridge from the business-as-usual mentality toward a more free-market approach favored by reformers,” noting he was “solid academically” and would challenge the nation’s public schools to improve.
Although the National Education Association is opposed to vouchers and other school choice initiatives, NEA President Bob Chase viewed Paige’s nomination as signaling “an important commitment to public schools” and a recognition of “the exceptional challenges” that face urban schools.
“Like many of our members who work in urban classrooms every day, Rod Paige has seen firsthand the challenges they face,” said Chase. “His sincere and productive work on behalf of urban schools and children will be enormously valuable in his role as U.S. Secretary of Education.”