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Education in America: The Complacency Must End. Remarks of
U.S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige (National Press Club,
Washington, DC, September 24, 2003).
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^Educational Improvement; Educational Policy; Reports
This document presents the text of a speech given by U.S.
Secretary of Education Rod Page to the National Press Club September 24,
2003. This booklet also provides a transcript of Secretary Paige's responses
to questions asked during the event. The main developments in American
education, especially the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act are
Reproductions supplied by EDRS are the best that can be made
from the original document.
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Education in ‘America:
T’fie Compfacency ‘Must End
U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
SEPTEMBER 24, 2003
W hen President Bush took office in January 2001, he saw
an education system in crisis, unprepared to meet this
nation’s 21 s, -century needs. The president saw that the
majority of students who pass through our public schools could not
read proficiently. And even fewer achieved proficiency in
mathematics or science.
Because he believed that the education of our children is our
greatest national responsibility, the core of our democracy and the
source of our freedom, he made education reform one of his
The president understood that American education needed more
than incremental tinkering or small adjustments; it needed major
He also understood that the powerful forces of stasis would not
allow the needed reform unless the American people themselves
rose up and demanded change. Thus, the needed reform would
require bipartisan congressional support. What he really wanted
was an education revolution.
On his fourth day in office, the president proposed the No Child
Left Behind Act , and with bipartisan support it became the law of
the land. The president wanted emancipation for students and
parents and a guarantee of the full promise of our democracy.
Following is a discussion about the reasons why this revolution
was necessary and a report on its progress. First, here is some
good news. Many of our K-12 schools are the finest in the world,
with outstanding teachers, visionary administrators and high-
quality resources. Some schools are amazing success stories and
make for great news copy, radio actualities and TV interviews.
These schools are not always in the suburbs, either. They may be
in Harlem or Helena, West Chicago or East L.A., Charlotte or
Charlottesville, Durham or Denver. Many of them are public
schools. There is much of which we can be proud.
But that is not the full story. I wish it were. Many schools in this
same great country of ours let students leave without teaching them
anything. In those schools time passes slowly. Students attend —
they sit there — but don’t learn. Teachers speak, but the words are
often meaningless or they fall on deaf ears.
This atmosphere of disregard confirms the students’ suspicion that
they have already been written off and that no one really cares if
they learn or not. For those passing through these schools, their
souls wither as their lives are wasted. In such situations, education
most closely resembles a holding action, as students mark time and
wait to be thrust out into a competitive job market, armed with few
skills and little hope. These students are cheated. They are robbed
of the enrichment and empowerment that comes with education.
They can never get their elementary or high school years back.
We are facing an unrecognized education crisis in this country.
Our wide and sometimes growing achievement gap confirms that
there is a two-tiered education system. For the lucky few, their
education is the best in the world, virtually ensuring those students
have wonderful opportunities for further education, economic
security, professional rewards and personal freedom.
For others, there is an underperforming system. Students come to
school, but find little education. The vast majority of students left
behind are disadvantaged or low-income. Effectively, the
education circumstances for these students are not unlike those of a
de facto system of apartheid. We can document this disparity. Last
month, there were many “good news” stories about the national
jump in the latest SAT scores. The headlines read: “Student scores
on the SAT rise to all-time high.” Yes, this is some welcome news,
but if we delve a little deeper, another story unfolds — one that
didn’t make headlines or copy.
Even as the headlines say, “SAT Scores Rise,” closer observation
reveals that the scores for African American SAT-takers didn’t rise,
they remained flat. And Hispanic students’ scores actually went
down from previous years. Thus, we celebrate by overlooking
disparities, disagreeable conclusions and disadvantaged students.
By the time they reach 12th grade, only one in six African
Americans and one in five Hispanics can read proficiently. Math
scores are even worse: only 3 percent of African American and 4
percent of Hispanic students are testing at the proficient level. To
put it bluntly, our K-12 system is not serving some kids well. We
let these young children sit quietly in the back of class while we
celebrate because some of our students are succeeding.
These statistics show that there is an education gap in this country;
there is also an education gap with other countries. Internationally,
our students are falling behind students in other countries. Two
weeks ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) released a disturbing report. The findings
show that American students are being rapidly overtaken by
students in many other countries. American students read, write
and do math at rates lower than students in Asia and Europe. This
is a shocking report, especially because it also documents that we
spend more per student than any of the other OECD countries, yet
we receive modest results.
Our students are falling behind and there is every indication that, if
we allow the guardians of the educational status quo to have their
way, we will continue to fall behind. And our nation will be left
The report makes it unarguably clear that if current educational
attainments are allowed to continue, underachievement will be a
disaster, not only for our students, but for our nation as well.
Educational disparities threaten the country itself, our very way of
Our nation has prospered and is strong. But the world is not static.
The world is moving forward and becoming even more complex
and intertwined. Time is speeding us into a race with destiny, into
an impending revolution fueled by rapid change, global
competitiveness and yet-undefined international relationships.
Civilizations rise and fall depending upon the quality of education
available. H.G. Wells said, “Human history becomes more and
more a race between education and catastrophe.” We face an
Unless improvements are made, American students will not be
competitive with students in other countries, dooming future
generations to less opportunity, greater levels of poverty and
further disparities in health status.
The OECD report shows that nearly every European country has
made sizeable gains in educational achievement. What this means
for the United States is that the rest of the world is catching up to
Today, our high school graduation rates fall short of the OECD
average. These results highlight an extremely important truth
about our public schools; we have become complacent and self-
satisfied and often lack the will to do better.
The OECD report shows the urgency of our task at hand: we must
improve our public schools before the rest of the world leaves us
behind. Our children and grandchildren’s world will be even more
complex, interrelated and global. Can anyone earnestly say that
our current education system is preparing our future generations
for this world?
In the future, only the well-educated will have the necessary skills,
insight and imagination to succeed. Those who are unprepared
will sit on the sidelines, confronting poverty, dead-end jobs and
hopelessness. They will find little choice and much despair, the
well-educated will live in a world of their own choosing; the
poorly educated will wander in the shadows.
This isn’t just about jobs; it is also about quality of life. A sound
education gives purpose. It provides companionship and solace. It
enriches the mind and spirit.
We cannot deny the benefits of education through shortsighted
indifference or lack of will. Nor can we capitulate to the guardians
of the status quo. The achievement of all our children must
improve, across the board. No child can be left behind.
Education matters to all of us. The ripple effect of
underachievement touches all Americans. Our citizens pay a huge
economic and social price for undereducated citizens. Welfare
rates rise. Poverty increases. Health status diminishes. Tax
money is spent to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
We find greater strains on Social Security and Medicare and
Medicaid. Prices increase to cover rising costs of insurance, job
re-training, job-related accidents, disability and poor productivity.
Underemployment increases if workers can’t hold full-time jobs.
Violence, crime, substandard housing, hunger and disintegration of
the family are all linked to low educational attainment.
We must be mindful that we live in an interconnected world. What
affects one part of one community affects the entire community.
We cannot be satisfied if even one child is left behind. We all must
work together to solve this problem.
This division must end, not by lowering the standards for the
lucky, but by raising the quality of education for all of our children.
We know such an effort can make a difference.
Let me share the remarkable story of Lee Alderman, a transfer
student from a private school in Northern Virginia. He transferred
by choice, moving to Cardozo High School, a public school in a
financially disadvantaged area of the District of Columbia. Lee
was a special education student, diagnosed as having autism. His
development was slow in the early years. But his mother fought
for Lee to get a high-quality education and the school gave him the
attention he needed. Lee thrived and achieved great academic
success. Two years ago, he graduated as valedictorian. He is now
in college on a full academic scholarship. Don’t tell me every
child can’t learn. Every child is a potential Lee Alderman.
So the upside is this: we can provide a high-quality education for
all students. The president and the Congress have given us the
tools we need to reform American education — the
No Child Left Behind Act.
In the past few weeks, millions of our children have gone back to
their schools. When they crossed the campus threshold, they
entered a new era. Yes, many of their same teachers are still there.
The buildings are swept and cleaned and they still look the same.
Yet, something is different. For the first time in the history of our
nation, every state in our nation has an accountability plan that
holds all schools and all students in their state to high standards.
For the first time in our nation, parents and teachers have the
information they need to work together to make sure no child is
left behind. Every child counts.
It may come as a surprise that some schools that get an “A” from
their state education agency or that appear on Newsweek' s “best
schools” list are also on another list: schools that under No Child
Left Behind are considered “in need of improvement.”
Parents more than likely react to this new fact with bewilderment.
How can their school be on both lists, they ask. The answer is that
some evaluations use group averages, which can hide poorly
performing students, while No Child Left Behind counts all
Parents may even be upset that their school received what they
perceive as a scarlet letter because a few subgroups didn’t make
the grade under the new federal law. And that may make them
angry, understandably. But full accountability means telling the
entire story and then acting to correct deficits.
No Child Left Behind is a tough law. But it’s a good law. It
focuses attention on the children who most need our help; but it
benefits all children. As a result of No Child Left Behind , all
across the country, communities are making progress in reforming
This fall, parents in economically disadvantaged school districts
can get information about how well their local school is
performing, about its teachers’ qualifications, and about whether
the school is safe.
Schools and teachers will have detailed information about their
students’ achievement, so that they can adapt their lessons and
better serve all their students.
Parents of students attending high-need schools will receive a letter
telling them they have options if their child’s school hasn’t made
sufficient progress over the last couple years. And they will find
that this year they have more federal funding, the highest federal
support in history.
Many of you know this law has its critics. There has been
resistance and even stem opposition. We shouldn’t be surprised.
There are significant, powerful forces entrenched in the old ways,
mired in self-interest. They are the old guard — the keepers of the
Measuring results is a hallmark of the private sector, where
management has to be held accountable to shareholders. Yet, for
many, this same accountability is unwelcome in education. But we
must have it.
We must be held accountable for our results to our stakeholders:
students, parents and the taxpayers. There are some who are
fighting this change in the classroom, in the faculty lounge, in the
school board rooms, in the mayor’s office or before the city
council. Some are going higher, to the state house and to Capitol
Some don’t believe all children can leam. They say it’s silly to
have a goal of all children being proficient by 2014. I would ask
them what percentage should be our goal? Who will judge which
children to leave behind?
Some find their special interests threatened. Some argue we have
the right idea, but the wrong approach. Some claim we are
underfunding and they will engage in a game of inside-the-
Beltway semantics, with talk about “authorizations” and
I understand. Education is a national priority and it is complex and
it needs debate.
I welcome analysis of No Child Left Behind and the process in
place. That’s the whole point — we need information and healthy
discussion. We will leam from experience. But those who oppose
this law simply to fight change are on the failed side of history.
For example, in the last few weeks, some critics have questioned
our fiscal commitment. They claim that we simply need to spend
more money on the old system. That would be a big mistake.
We’ve already tried spending more money on the system with no
measurement of results. That didn’t work. In fact, we’ve tried it
for the last three decades.
As a nation, we now spend more than $470 billion dollars a year
on K-12 education — more than on defense. My question to the
critics is this: what would they purchase with more money? More
programs that don’t work? More mediocrity? More poor policy
and bad administrative decisions?
Don’t be duped, it’s not that we don’t spend enough. We spend
enough for better results. We spend more than many other nations
and still get poor results.
The time to hide inefficiency or mediocrity is past. If money alone
determined quality, then the highest spending school districts
should be the best. They often are not. Some of the lowest
spending school districts produce the highest student achievement.
We need to find more efficient and fair ways to use our fiscal
One of the most controversial education reforms under discussion
lately — and one fought the hardest by the guardians of the status
quo — has been opportunity scholarships for the District of
Columbia’s children. These scholarships would allow some
parents to move their children into a school of their choice. These
scholarships emancipate both parents and students. They end the
tired and self-satisfying monopolistic control of education, by
allowing for choice and the pursuit of quality. I was very pleased
to see the U.S. House of Representatives approve choice for
students in the District of Columbia. I am following the Senate’s
actions very closely. And I particularly want to applaud the
courage of Mayor Tony Williams, Councilman Kevin Chavous and
School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who supported the
Opportunity scholarships equal school improvement. That’s all
any of us want. Some think No Child Left Behind is a process to
“dummy-down” schools. That is not true. It is a process to make
each school excellent, to make each school academically
Every parent should welcome this process. Education is an act of
trust. Parents expect educators to perform competently and
proficiently. They trust that educators know their subject. No
Child Left Behind provides a guarantee that we are doing
everything possible to honor the trust placed in us, to maximize the
learning experience for each student and to provide the best
possible future for each child.
Some think accountability won’t work. They are wrong — of
course it will. It is the lack of accountability that has gotten us into
this mess. With accountability, schools have a powerful tool to
monitor the progress of their students. Tests that evaluate a
student’s progress are the key to serving them. Once we know
what doesn’t work, we will fix it. And we will continue to use
what is working. It’s just common sense.
Some worry that we have placed the emphasis on tests, not
teaching. I am surprised by the debate about the need for tests.
How else can we measure if students are learning?
Some worry that instruction will center on “teaching to the test.”
But there is nothing wrong with “teaching to the test,” if you are
testing something that students need to learn.
Testing allows us to highlight the students who most need our
help — so we can give them the help they need. The results of these
tests will determine whether schools have made the grade or
“Adequate Yearly Progress.”
When a school is identified and placed on the “needs
improvement” list, resources are targeted to get them back on
track. And everyone springs into action. There is no hostile
takeover or mass exodus. Rather, schools will have an entire
community focused on improving achievement for
all its students.
No Child Left Behind also puts an emphasis on teaching because
we know that teacher quality has a direct effect on student
achievement. A good teacher often outweighs the negative effects
of all the other challenges a disadvantaged child might shoulder
when he or she walks into the classroom. I know many, many
teachers who have made extraordinary sacrifices to share the gift
of learning. The new law requires that teachers be highly qualified
by their state’s definition. Again, that’s common sense.
We are committed to working in partnership with the states to meet
the goal of having a highly qualified teacher in every classroom,
not just in schools in economically well-off districts.
We know opposition will come precisely because many people fear
change itself. They like the habits and consistency of repeating the
past, even if repetition means disaster for millions of American
students. They fear this revolution.
Let us remember that education is the road out of poverty, it is the
best weapon against racism, the best correlate to good health, and
vital to the continued growth of our economy.
Forty-one years ago. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at this
podium about the need for greater accountability — a guarantee that
all Americans would enjoy a full measure of the promise of the
American dream. The Civil Rights Act was a landmark in
extending political and economic equality to all Americans.
I believe that No Child Left Behind is the logical next step, for it
extends educational equality to all Americans. The American
Dream begins with, and demands, a meaningful, sound education.
Quality education is a right that must be protected and fulfilled for
every child in our country. Such an education is the foundation
upon which we will build their future and the future of this great
In the months and years to come, we will travel a long and hard
road. Education reform must overcome many hurdles, just as the
civil rights struggle encountered barriers and obstacles. But we
can — and we will — extend the education franchise to provide a
high-quality education to every child.
I find inspiration in the counsel offered by Nelson Mandela. He
ends his magnificent autobiography with these words:
We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first
step on a longer and more difficult road. ... The true test of
our devotion to freedom is just beginning. I have walked
that long road to freedom. ... I have taken a moment ...to
look back on the distance I have come. ... But I can rest
only for a moment ... and I dare not linger, for my walk is
Our walk is just beginning. Let’s walk together.
Question and Answer Session
Moderated by Tammy Lytle, National Press Club
Tammy Lytle: It’s estimated that the No Child Left Behind Act
will cost states billions of dollars. Many in Congress who had
supported the act now claim that the Bush administration is failing
to adequately fund it. Several states are now planning to sue the
administration over the unfunded mandates. Why has the
administration not sought to provide all available funds under the
Secretary Rod Paige: I think it’s an error to take the premise that
the act is not properly funded. In fact, let’s put some context here.
Public education is a state and local responsibility, but it is a
federal interest. And so, therefore, the federal government is
providing supplemental resources. It is not the federal
government’s intention to do the whole system.
In fact, this act has language in it that says that that is not
required — that what is not funded is not required.
Further, this act was more generous in its funding than the previous
acts. For example, the Improving America ’s Schools Act of 1 994
also required a certain amount of tests. There was no mention or
even discussion at the hearings about paying for these tests. But
the No Child Left Behind Act, because of the leadership of the
president, out of the box had $390 million for our developing of
The funding issue is a bogus argument. It has no basis in fact. And
we’re growing quite impatient with it.
Ms. Lytle: It’s been estimated that anywhere from 50 to 80
percent of schools nationwide won’t meet the standards set forth.
In fact, Florida recently announced that 90 percent of its schools
failed to meet No Child Left Behind. Do these numbers surprise
you? And what can be done?
Secretary Paige: Schools identified for improvement are
identified by the states for improvement. Some states were more
aggressive about identifying schools for improvement than others.
Florida was very aggressive. They decided to identify a large
number of their schools for improvement. They could have done it
a different way and had fewer schools. Many states take other
decisions. But all states, I think, act in the best interest of their
When a school is identified for improvement, it is identified for the
purpose of it being improved, so we can direct resources and
attention to that particular school. So if a state thinks it can take on
a large number of schools, we applaud them rather than feel that
they’ve done something wrong. They’ve done something great.
And we applaud Florida and others.
Ms. Lytle: You mentioned teaching to the test. Do you have any
concerns that that will negate some more creative methods of
teaching students? And how do you also address other criticisms,
such as the fact that schools are cutting music and other programs
in order to comply with the act?
Secretary Paige: I’ll take the last part first. Cutting music and
others arts programs like that is a scapegoat and an alibi. We also
know many schools that are simultaneously making achievement
in arts as they are toward the standards of the No Child Left
Behind Act set by their state.
What was the first part of the question?
Ms. Lytle: About teaching to the test.
Secretary Paige: Teaching to the test. The tests that we’re talking
about are achievement tests. That’s different from aptitude tests.
The achievement test’s purpose is to determine the degree to which
students have achieved against the standards that were set by the
state. So if you’re teaching that content, that’s what we want. And
that’s a completely different situation than teaching to the SAT or
to an aptitude test. So teaching to an achievement test is not the
problem that many of our objectors would try to get the world to
Ms. Lytle: What about schools that end up cutting teachers in
order to meet the requirements?
Secretary Paige: We don’t believe that the act requires cutting
teachers. We think that all of us are under some financial
difficulties now and making difficult financial decisions. But none
of these decisions are mandated by the law. In fact, the No Child
Left Behind Act is a positive law. It is designed to help. It is not
designed to do damage to schools.
Ms. Lytle: Is it possible to implement this in the same way
everywhere — rural, urban, you name it? And with states having
such different standards, such different tests for reading
improvement, for instance, do you think that some of the
standards, such as the National Assessment of Educational
Progress, that all states should use that if they wish?
Secretary Paige: First of all, doing the implementation of the
requirements that each state submit a plan, the people in our
Department think were really great in respecting the differences
that the states brought and to build on top of these different
systems that the state already had.
The second pillar of the No Child Left Behind Act is called
flexibility and local control. And so we respect the decisions that
they’re making at the local level. And the accountability system
does not impose a single federal system across the states.
The No Child Left Behind Act is better thought of as a collection of
different sets of standards by states, the District of Columbia and
Puerto Rico. There’s no single federal standard.
Ms. Lytle: But how does the Education Department reconcile the
fact that many schools that are well-regarded in their states are
now deemed failing under No Child Left Behind ?
Secretary Paige: Okay, first of all, the act never uses the word
“failing.” But let me mention that we are counting differently.
Many systems use averages. Averages can mask failure. Averages
can be influenced strongly by a lot of high-achieving students and
can hide low-achieving students. And if we identify the entire
system based on the average, then we’ll disregard a lot of students
who need help, and we will be leaving those students behind.
The No Child Left Behind Act brings a different way of counting. It
says we will not only count some of the students; we’ll count all
the students. So it’s possible to have a system or school that has a
high average performance because you’ve got a lot of great
students in it, but you have a lot of students in it who are also not
so great, and they’re not being paid much attention to. The No
Child Left Behind Act changes that system, and we pay attention to
Ms. Lytle: Given the reports linking dropout rates and testing in
New York and Houston, do you worry at all that No Child Left
Behind will put pressure on low-performing students to drop out so
test scores rise?
Secretary Paige: I’m amused by the logic of our detractors, which
says if you hold people to standards, they won’t be there. I don’t
think that’s the case at all. I think that we should be concerned
about dropouts. We should do all we can to prevent it, and reduce
it and work to make sure that all students have an opportunity to
The two issues are separate issues. They’re not linked at all. In
order for us to have the type of improvement that we need, we
must have standards and we must have accountability. What is the
alternative to that — no standards and no accountability? That is
what got us where we are now.
Ms. Lytle: In the Houston school district, as I mentioned earlier,
the state is investigating fraudulent record keeping. The local
dropout rate when you were superintendent there was near zero.
What does this say about your leadership of that district?
Secretary Paige: I think the way it was reported says more about
the way it was reported than anything else.
The Texas accountability system includes an annual measure of
dropouts. In the 2001 submission, some of the schools, 306
schools in Houston, reported data that were inaccurate. Whether
this was inaccurate because of some sloppy record keeping or
somebody intentionally tried to do things that were incorrect is still
being determined and should be investigated. That’s why the
system should be applauded, because the system found the
problem and is working on the problem, and that means the system
works. And it should not be a secret to any profession, where you
have a large group of people, that you might find one or two who
take a shortcut here and there. The important thing is that you
have built into the system the kind of monitoring systems and
quality control systems that assure that you can find these things
and correct them. And that is what is happening there.
And for a small number of the schools that have fraudulent or
errant data to be masked as a system problem in terms of quality
across the system I think is patently unfair. There are some hard-
working, great people in the Houston Independent School District
and in the other system that you mentioned as well, and I think
they should be applauded for their hard work rather than loaded
down with some difficulties that one or two people might have
Ms. Lytle: Why aren’t schools required to reduce dropout rates
among minorities in meeting the requirements of No Child Left
Secretary Paige: Say again, please.
Ms. Lytle: Why aren’t schools required to reduce dropout rates
among minorities in particular to meet No Child Left Behind ?
Secretary Paige: Well, I don’t think that distinction is there. The
No Child Left Behind Act applies to all students. And the students
who are most in need, many who are minorities, get particular
attention paid to them.
Ms. Lytle: Are you concerned that cutbacks in education funding
in many states will undermine prospects for No Child Left Behind ?
Secretary Paige: I certainly hope not, because this law, as I
indicated in my prepared remarks, is very generous as far as
funding is concerned. The amount of dollars is historic.
You know, despite all of the different things that are competing for
the federal dollar, like protecting the homeland, like fixing the
economy and all those things, the president has been, I think,
extremely generous in protecting investment in education. And the
dollars in the No Child Left Behind Act are sufficient to cause the
actions that we want from the No Child Left Behind Act.
Are there other issues where dollars may be needed? Possibly. But
this act certainly cannot be fairly criticized for not being
Ms. Lytle: How are tax cuts good for education? And what do
you think will happen to your budget next year?
Secretary Paige: I think our budget next year will do pretty much
as it’s done in years past, and that is, it will grow in some respects.
I hope so. So we’re going to be campaigning to make sure that
we’re adequately funded.
Ms. Lytle: Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis was here on Monday, and
he complained that the federal government budgets only one dollar
per student on average for education in the arts. Why does your
Department give art education such a low priority, this questioner
Secretary Paige: Well, you know, Wynton is a great musician and
I enjoy his music, but I’m not sure he’s accurate on that particular
point. And besides, these decisions about the emphasis on art and
other instances would be at the state level and sometimes at the
school district level.
We do have some funds that we provide for these kinds of
programs, but it is not the federal government’s responsibility to
have the direct responsibility for funding education in the states.
It’s a state responsibility. We are interested in supplementing what
states do, not replacing what states should do.
Ms. Lytle: Can you comment on the billions of dollars that your
Department is not collecting on defaulted student loans? Isn’t the
American taxpayer the victim of abuse there?
Secretary Paige: Au contraire. I think that our Department
should be applauded for the extensive efforts it has put forth and
the goals that it has achieved in terms of reducing the number of
defaults. There was a press conference just a week ago celebrating
the fact that our Department has achieved great things against
some tough odds. And I’d supply anybody who needs that
information the press releases that we had for last week.
Ms. Lytle: In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the
University of Michigan case, do you intend to continue advocating
race-neutral alternatives to affirmative action? And what will end
the need for such programs?
Secretary Paige: I think the No Child Left Behind Act is probably
this nation’s greatest affirmative action program. And I long for
the day when we won’t have to require any unusual grading in
order to achieve diversity in our great universities.
If we’re successful in the No Child Left Behind Act , I think
universities will be flooded with highly qualified minorities who
are competent in all subjects and won’t need that type of unusual, I
think, discrimination against others. We grew up in south
Mississippi, and we were taught that discrimination based on race
was bad. And I’ve just had a difficult time switching now to say
that it’s good if this discrimination comes in this direction.
Ms. Lytle: Are high school and college sports teams becoming too
powerful? Are they becoming free training camps for professional
Secretary Paige: I think fairness would dictate that I say that
there are some excesses in sports. But I think, in the main,
collegiate sports are properly conducted. At least I would like to
hope so, because I think they represent a valuable part of the
education experience for young men and for young women.
Ms. Lytle: If more parents use vouchers, what assurances will the
public have that the private schools meet high standards?
Secretary Paige: We think parents will stop going there if they
don’t. We think that that’s a problem with public schools. They
cannot meet high standards and still receive all the benefits that
they would otherwise. There are no consequences for failure. The
market pressures with the private schools, I think, will take care of
Ms. Lytle: The next question — although Mayor Williams is here,
it’s definitely not his handwriting on this question.
Secretary Paige: Are you sure?
Ms. Lytle: Yes. What guarantees are there that vouchers for
Washington, D.C. will not open the door to nationwide vouchers,
in violation of church-state separation?
Secretary Paige: Well, first, I think it’s been already established
that it’s not a violation of church and state. We’ve had that
argument for some time, and that one should be ended now.
Our education system, I think, in the future, we can see already
now, will contain a group of different kinds of delivery systems.
There’s already homeschooling, which is one of the fastest-
growing delivery systems. There’s cyber-schooling, which is
growing fast as well. You can see springing up all over the
country, because of the explosive Internet, cyber-schools making it
possible for students to be anywhere and still go to school. Then
we have private schools. And we’ll have this structure that we now
call our public schools.
I think probably, as we look into the future, this structure we call
our public schools is always probably going to be the heavy^lifter.
And that’s why we’re fighting so hard to make that work. We
think choice and providing opportunities for parents to make these
choices will be a necessary condition for effective public schools.
So when I fight for vouchers, I’m doing so for two reasons. One
reason is social justice, but another reason is we want to improve
the public schools. And that turns out to be the main reason. The
simple logic here is, monopolies don’t work. We all know this.
And I think there’s a lot of energy bottled up in public schools that
will be freed when we have choice. And you will see these public
school administrators become creative and innovative, and it will
be a force that this nation is not prepared to see or won’t expect to
I believe that they can perform on par with any other system. They
needn’t fear this competition. And besides, we can’t duck it. It is
going to be here, so we might as well prepare for it.
Ms. Lytle: Given how you’re pushing all these higher standards,
how can you justify using public funds for charter schools in the
D.C. voucher program that aren’t required to meet the assessment
standards of No Child Left Behind ?
Secretary Paige: We have a lot of false assumptions as we look
into how we do our public schooling. First place, public education,
for example, is embedded in the state constitutions. In the Texas
constitution, the words go something like this: every Texas child is
due a free and appropriate education at the public expense.
It doesn’t dictate a structure. It doesn’t say it must be this way or
that way. So you can make the case that public education is a
concept. It is a free and appropriate education to a student at the
expense of the state. And the structure, whether it’s what we’d
now call the public schools or a voucher school or a charter school
is a matter of management and which is the most efficient way to
get this free and appropriate education to the students.
So that’s my view of the thing.
Ms. Lytle: You talked about not wanting to leave anyone behind.
How do you respond to folks who say that, under the adequate
yearly progress requirements, special-education students should be
exempt? And with the budget deficits that we’re facing now, will
special education ever be fully funded?
Secretary Paige: When we say no child should be left behind, we
also mean special-ed students. So special-ed students must be
included, as other students are. The number of students in special
education is growing rapidly.
There’s one particular category that bothers me a lot, and it’s called
learning disabled. About 50 percent of the students in special
education are in this category, learning disabled. And I’ve learned,
by reading research from NICHD (the National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development), that as much as 70 and possibly
80 percent of students in that category are there because they’ve
never really been effectively taught to read. So I think the number
of people in special education will be vastly reduced when our
reading program gets much stronger. And so we’ll have better
funds because we’ll have fewer students in special education.
Ms. Lytle: Before I ask the last question, I wanted to present you
with a certificate of appreciation for being here and a National
Press Club mug.
And the last question is relating to that doctoral thesis on the
reaction times of offensive linemen. (Laughter.) How has that
helped you in your current job?
Secretary Paige: It’s taught me to duck better.
Ms. Lytle: Thank you.
U.S.Department of Education
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Secretary, Education in America: The Complacency Must End, Remarks of U.S
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