Turn the Paige
At a meeting with the nation's governors last month, Bush's Education Secretary, Rodney Paige, called the National Education Association (NEA) a "terrorist organization" because teachers have been decrying Bush's broken promises on his education reforms. When Paige later "apologized," he accused the teachers of "obstructionist scare tactics." In response, the Campaign for America's Future and MoveOn.org have joined together to launch a petition calling on the President to fire Paige. The petition can be joined at www.firepaige.org.
We launched the petition not simply because Paige's comments libel America's teachers but because they represent an Administration mindset that is threatening to America's children.
Bush's education reforms--the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)--imposed sweeping mandates on the schools, requiring mandatory testing and reporting, with schools that fail to show progress facing cut-offs in public funding. Bush gained bipartisan support for the reforms in part because the President promised a dramatic increase in funding to provide schools with the help they need to make the law work. By all accounts, the law has encouraged new attention to students that have been too often slighted in schools--minorities, slow learners, new immigrants.
But the promise of the law has been undermined by how it has been implemented. As Representative George Miller has detailed, the President has broken his promise on funding, falling more than $25 billion short to date on what he initially promised. At the same time, with the states facing their worst fiscal crisis in fifty years, the President insisted on his top-end tax cuts, opposing any protection for school budgets. The resulting cuts across the country have made implementing the new law even more difficult.
But when teachers began explaining what the effects were on students, Secretary Paige--and the Administration--ignored their comments and attacked their motivation. Turning conservative ideology on its head, the Administration now suggests that the bureaucrats around Paige are better informed than the teachers in the classroom. As Paige's insult exposed, the Administration treats teachers as an enemy that has to be defeated instead of enlisting them in a process to make the law work. This isn't just an affront to conservative dogma; it's a clear and present danger to children in public schools.
Now state legislatures are beginning to revolt against the lack of funding and the inept administration of the law. Republican strongholds in Virginia and Utah have passed resolutions challenging the law by overwhelming majorities. Paige hasn't yet labeled the Republican state legislators terrorists, but he hasn't listened to them either.
The President has sought to portray himself as an "education President," a reformer with results. But after passing NCLB, he's basically been AWOL. He chose tax cuts over help to schools, so the country has been laying off teachers while giving tax breaks to millionaires. He broke his promise on funding his own reforms, and then broke his promise on lifting the level of Pell Grants for deserving university students, even though tuition hikes are pricing more and more kids out of school. And he has left Secretary Paige in office, a man who seems to consider his job one of quashing criticism rather than listening to it.
Making certain every child succeeds is an enormous challenge. But this Administration has defaulted even on helping to provide the basics--insuring that every child has the nutrition, healthcare and preschool vital to coming to school ready to learn, providing small classes in the early grades, schools that aren't dangerous to children's health, teachers who are respected and engaged in lifetime learning, after-school programs vital to working parents, and the certain knowledge that all children can afford a college education if they deserve one.
America's Future strongly believes that standards and accountability are vital. Holding schools accountable for subgroups can force attention on students that too often have been shunted aside. But enforcing high-stakes tests without the resources to help schools succeed merely sentences them to failure.
Paige claims his libels and anger derive from his concern about minority children being left behind. Were that the case, he'd be picking his fight with Bush and not the NEA. And when the new Bush budget was published calling for cuts in education funding across the board for the next five years, Paige would have resigned in protest. But Paige isn't protecting children, he's protecting the President.
So it is time to turn the Paige. Paige's dismissal is a necessary first step to getting the Administration to fulfill its promises and begin listening to those whose job it is to make the reforms work in the classroom. We invite all who agree to sign the petition at www.firepaige.org. Join us--this is but an early round in what we anticipate will be a growing struggle to get this Administration and this country to meet the challenge of educating the next generation.