On August 13, 2002, Rob Redding interviewed the U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. 

I’m welcoming to the show, a gentleman by the name of Rod Paige. If that doesn’t ring a bell to you…he’s the U.S. Secretary of Education. Born in Mississippi, he is the son of public school educators. He has a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University, in Mississippi, a doctorate’s degree from Indiana University. He served for a decade as Dean of the College of Education, at Texas Southern University. He’s won a lot of awards, among them – The National Association of Black School Educators Superintendent of the Year Award, and in 2001, The National Superintendent of the Year by the African Association of School Administrators. He is attending a summit: The National Economic Forum, with the President, of course. This forum is being held at Baylor University, in Waco, Texas; and begins today. Secretary Paige, thank you for joining the show! 

Rod Paige: Thank you for inviting me. 

Tell me what you hope to accomplish at this forum, with President Bush. 

Rod Paige: Well, first of all, this forum was designed to interface directly with the people of America; all across the political and occupation strata – just to hear from people about the conditions they’re experiencing with the economy.

Now the Democrats say you may be one of the only Blacks there; is that true? 

Rod Paige: Not the case – in fact, there were any number of African Americans here, a lot of them on the panels where they had a big role in the discussions. 

What time did the panel get under way? 

Rod Paige: It got underway this morning. At 9 o’clock.

And when will it be finished? 

Rod Paige: It will be wrapping up later today.

Now I understand, according to The Washington Post, you have flown in…actually the Administration has flown in, very few people for this…one of the people has been a waitress. Who is that waitress, and where is she from?

Rod Paige: I’m not certain where the waitress is from. I didn’t get a chance to meet her directly, but there are a number of people, from other careers…for example, there were a couple of truck drivers – person who drove a truck for…UPS? And some restaurant owners, people who owned IT companies…there was a broad spectrum of people.

Give me a head count, how many people are we talking about? 

Rod Paige: Somewhere around 400 to 500.

So we’re talking business ethicists, corporate executives, business students, corporate executives, small business owners…

Rod Paige: The United States of America; a cross-spectrum…

Now that is a point of contention…that is actually a point of contention, of whether it really is a representative of everyone…because I understand that a lot of people are flying in on their dime…with this. 

Rod Paige: Some are, some are on the company dime, and some are being supported by other means.

Now, The Washington Post has reported that critics are being excluded from this, and that Bush was going to give at least, the other side of the story to this. How has the Administration attempted to do that?

Rod Paige: Well, first of all, this was scheduled in order to have a dialogue with the people of America. He wasn’t here to have an argument; this was not a forum for detractors to come and yell and scream, and get in front of the camera – that was not the point; what we’re trying to get accomplished. And so, there were a lot of people who had that as a motive, who are not here; and they shouldn’t be here!

How did they weed out between who would cause trouble, and who was really about solving problems? 

Rod Paige: I’m not sure how the distinction was drawn, and I don’t think there was a lot of focus on that distinction…I think what was decided upon, was getting a cross-section of Americans here, to discuss an issue – in an intelligent, objective, unemotional kind of way – because we’re trying to learn. 

But can’t you do the learning best, with a full variety…. of people there….

Rod Paige: But you shouldn’t have concluded that there was not a full variety. See, I think that assumption is in error… 

I mean most of the people…okay; give me a head count of how many people flew themselves in, versus how many people you actually fly in… 

Rod Paige: See, I don’t have all of the details about that, right now. But if I had the details, I wouldn’t mind sharing them with you, at all. There was no deliberate attempt… 

How difficult would those details be to get? You know before hand who’s coming… 

Rod Paige: Yeah, I had a roster of who’s coming. And I’ll be glad to glad to mail you a copy of the people who are involved. 

You could send it snail-mail, but I’d prefer you email it, by the end of the show?

Rod Paige: I don’t know…let’s get your phone number…I don’t know if we’ve got a digital copier here now; most of the stuff is printed. 

Okay, so you’re not sure if you have a digital copy of that – wow. 

Rod Paige: But if not, you can get it for your show tomorrow. 

Well, I would love to have it. Because there is the impression that not everyone is being represented… 

Rod Paige: Let’s agree, that there are some people who are not happy because they are not here. I don’t have an issue with that; now I’m going to discuss with you, what went on here positive with the economy…that’s what it was about, to collect information, and to talk to people. If there are some detractors, who feel there are people who they wanted to hear and were not here…I’m not gonna debate you on that! 

A lot of these people who are there are big contributors to the Bush Campaign!

Rod Paige: And some are not! When you take a group of people across America, you’re going to find there are people who contributed to the Bush Campaign, and some who contributed to the other campaigns! We’ll forgive ‘em for that. 

All right, now lets backtrack for a second. You said some of the detractors aren’t there; who are some of the high profile folks that are not there? 

Rod Paige: I don’t know the high profiles…you’re the one who bought the issue up! I was taking off after your discussion. Your quoting The Washington Post, I did not read The Washington Post this morning, so I’m not sure who those people are.

The story I’m referring to is actually on August 9th, sir. It seems if you were fairly read, on what’s going on inside the beltway… 

Rod Paige: I am fairly read. You know, I read about 8 or 10 newspapers everyday! 

Hmm. Okay…I assumed you’d have seen this article… 

“…Most of the participants will pay their own way; but the White House will fly in a few, including a waitress, to provide diversity.”

What type of diversity does a waitress? 

Rod Paige: See, you’re going by some person… 

The story is from Mike Allen. Mike Allen covers the White House! 

Rod Paige: Well, Mike has a right to his own opinion, and the way to express himself! And that’s wonderful of him, because this is the United States of America! 

Well, you said at the beginning of the conversation that you didn’t know where the waitress came from…but… 

Rod Paige: I do not know! Because there are close to 500 people here, and I don’t remember a particular person who is a waitress… 

All right; well let’s talk about the good things going on with the forum, here. 

Rod Paige: Hello!! Are you still there? 

Yes, Let’s talk about the good things. 

Rod Paige: Did you say, “Let’s talk about the good things”? 

Let’s talk about the good things…what’s actually been done! 

Rod Paige: Okay, today we had a discussion, from a cross section of Americans, about the economy, and how they experienced the economy. It was cross-section of people; and everybody had a chance to express themselves – and that’s what we wanted to have occur. 

Now, you’re the Secretary of Education, now tell me how you are playing a role? 

Rod Paige: Yeah, my role, I think, is a particularly important one. I think there is an indelible link between our economic well-being, and our education. To the extent that we can improve America’s education, and also the education of all the people who make up America! We are, at the same time, improving our economic circumstances. So, our economy depends on a well-prepared workforce. In order to have a well-prepared workforce, you have to have excellent schools, that provide excellent instruction. And math, and science, and language, and art, and other subjects, we need – in order to be competitive, internationally. So, education, I think, is not only a big part of our economic solutions; it’s also a big part of our national security solutions. 

You…are also at the forum, of course, where it was leak – that Bush will express a new sense of urgency about the economy…with tabling this $28.9 billion bill to supplement homeland security and defense spending. Has he done that, will he do that? 

Rod Paige: You know, I’d prefer to let the President speak for himself. So, he has press people – you can get in contact with them, and they can speak for him. 

So he hasn’t made a decision yet? 

Rod Paige: I don’t know if he’s made a decision yet. 

Real quickly, let me ask you this: there was an op-ed in The Washington Post (speaking of The Washington Post), where you wrote that the Court correctly reasons that public interest education can be advanced by a private, in this case – religiously affiliated institution. But the Court decision sends a more significant message, that the purpose of American public education is just that – education. You of course, were referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on vouchers. Where is the Voucher Initiative on the scale at the U.S. Department of Education? 

Rod Paige: We think that parental choice is a requirement in order for schools to be effective. I am a great proponent of public schools…I led one of the nation’s largest public school systems – in Houston – for eight years. And my every waking hour was working toward making it a great school system for the minority population, which the school system primarily served. But I know, and every other person who runs an organization knows, when you protect your market, and create a monopoly, you are not going to get good performance. So, in order for the public schools – who serve most of our kids, to serve those kids well – they’re going to have to step up to the bat, and be competitive with the private schools, the church schools, the home schools, the internet schools, and every other kind of school. So in that regard, the Voucher Decision of the Supreme Court, was a real lifesaver for us; for African Americans. 

Secretary Paige…Secretary Paige… there have been a number of African Americans – Jesse Jackson Jr., a number of African Americans to come out against… 

Rod Paige: I don’t want to debate Jesse Jackson Jr. or any other detractors about that; I’m just giving my opinion on that. 

Well…you said it was a “wonderful thing” for African Americans… 

Rod Paige: I have actually served as a school superintendent, and ran a big school system, very successfully however, and so I don’t need to debate them about it. I know how school systems work, and I don’t have to argue about it, from a political perspective. 

But when you’re talking about school vouchers here, we’re talking about the possibility of some of these private schools increasing their tuition, just because you are handing out vouchers… 

Rod Paige: But it doesn’t matter if they increase their tuition, the point is, if a parent chooses to serve their child there, because the school system is serving the child best. If the private school does not serve the child, I’m for it closing down, just like the public school! 

What’s now the priority, “No Child Left Behind”, or “Vouchers”? 

Rod Paige: There is… no dichotomy between those two…parental choice is one small part of a menu of things we need to do to fix public schools. 

Eric, you’re up and aboard with Secretary Paige. 

Eric: Yeah, I’m just curious, he said that Vouchers are going to save Black people, where? I don’t understand how he can feel that way – the majority of Black people…well, not the majority, but… 

Rod Paige: See – that’s not true! He’s wrong! It is not the majority… 

Eric: I didn’t ask a question…how am I wrong? 

He didn’t even finish his question! 

Rod Paige: He’s making an incorrect statement! 

Eric: I didn’t even finish my statement! 

Rod Paige: That is not true that the majority of Blacks oppose vouchers… 

Eric: I didn’t say that! 

Eric, finish your statement. 

Eric: A preponderance of Black people are not able to afford to send their children to private school. Here in the state of Georgia, there is only a certain amount of money allocated to put your children in private school. That will nowhere near cover the expenses of putting our children into private school; or any child, for that matter. 

Secretary Paige? 

Rod Paige: We’re not talking about any specific city or state…the point for me is, the school that is not serving the child well, should not have the power to insist that that child stay there. If the child is not learning in a particular school, that child should go somewhere else. And just like budget affects everything else, if you can’t go and buy something that is more expensive, you go buy something that is less expensive. And it’s not even altogether clear, that the price of the school has much to do with the learning that children experience. For example, Marva Collins’s program in Chicago, which is one of the most effective systems ever, is not even a high-priced system. 

Last call – Ron, go ahead. 

Ron: Good afternoon, Secretary. 

Rod Paige: Good afternoon. 

Ron: Thank you. I hear what you’re saying, and I am generally supportive that our parents need an alternative to the failing public schools; if in fact, their school is failing. To raise an example, I send my daughter to Romar Academy, in East Point, Georgia. 

Rod Paige: Is that a private school? 

Ron: It’s a private, predominantly African American school, and the tuition is $420 a month. 

Rod Paige: Is it a great school? Is it a good school? 

Ron: Yes, it is. 

Rod Paige: Good. That’s my point; there are some good schools that don’t cost a lot. 

Ron: And so, I mean…if the market is going to be unacceptable to the majority of Black Americans, then why can’t Black Americans start their own schools? 

Rod Paige: Absolutely. 

Ron: You have public educated teachers, who have the skills to address this educational gap…I think it’s an excuse and a dependency, on a failed system – to do otherwise… 

Rod Paige: I will only say – amen to that point. And sir, if I can make a final statement, and then allow me to leave – my statement is this, right now, African American children are not doing well in schools…they’re trailing every other ethnic group that you can imagine. And for people who fight…to keep the current system…these people are doing a big disservice to African American children, and they should be the people who are most interested in a change; it is us who will have to solve this problem. Thank you for giving me this opportunity; and if I’m in Atlanta, sometime, I would like to come by and talk to you! 

Secretary Paige, I would love to have you, trust me! I have a lot more questions, and I’m sure you have a lot more answers! 

Rod Paige: Well, I’ll try them anyway… thanks!