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Paige speaks on No Child Left Behind

Kate McClelland | Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 into law, he declared it was the dawn of the “century of the educated person,” but in 2007 the same proportion of children – two-thirds – are still not reading at grade level. Former Secretary of Education Dr. Rod Paige spoke at Notre Dame Monday and said he felt that it his responsibility to change that statistic.

Paige, the keynote speaker for Black History Month, described the achievement gap between ethnicities in today’s schools as “the most important civil rights issue of our time.”

Paige described his own experience growing up in Mississippi, where schools were segregated and minority students received inferior school supplies and facilities. Paige said he started actively working to change that situation in college. He received a master’s degree and a doctorate from Indiana University and was eventually named superintendent of the Houston Independent School District.

Paige said his mission was to improve public schools because doing so would “strengthen the social and economic fabric of the city.” In late 2000, Paige was asked by U.S. President George W. Bush to be the Secretary of Education in his administration. Bush was sworn in on a Saturday, and by Tuesday, Paige said he was already addressing the issue of “No Child Left Behind.”

While Paige admitted that the No Child Left Behind Act is “not perfect,” he said it has made huge advancements in holding schools accountable for making sure that children are at the appropriate grade level in their capabilities.

Paige defended the standardized testing by citing that learning deficits tend to accumulate, so they must be identified early and continually measured so that they can be properly fixed.

He also spoke about the importance of choice of school in regard to No Child Left Behind. If a given public school is not reaching the required standards after two years of testing or if the child is not receiving fair treatment and help at that school, parents have the option of moving their child to another public school, he said.

Every child must have access to a good education because it is their civil right, Paige said. He said a society cannot consider itself just if it does not provide equal educational opportunity for all of its citizens.