On August 13, 2002, Rob Redding interviewed the U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.
Im welcoming to the show, a gentleman by the name of Rod Paige. If that doesnt ring a bell to you hes the U.S. Secretary of Education. Born in Mississippi, he is the son of public school educators. He has a bachelors degree from Jackson State University, in Mississippi, a doctorates degree from Indiana University. He served for a decade as Dean of the College of Education, at Texas Southern University. Hes 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 theyre 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 oclock.
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: Im not certain where the waitress is from. I didnt 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 were 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 wasnt 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 were trying to get accomplished. And so, there were a lot of people who had that as a motive, who are not here; and they shouldnt be here!
How did they weed out between who would cause trouble, and who was really about solving problems?
Rod Paige: Im not sure how the distinction was drawn, and I dont 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 were trying to learn.
But cant you do the learning best, with a full variety . of people there .
Rod Paige: But you shouldnt 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 dont have all of the details about that, right now. But if I had the details, I wouldnt mind sharing them with you, at all. There was no deliberate attempt
How difficult would those details be to get? You know before hand whos coming
Rod Paige: Yeah, I had a roster of whos coming. And Ill be glad to glad to mail you a copy of the people who are involved.
You could send it snail-mail, but Id prefer you email it, by the end of the show?
Rod Paige: I dont know lets get your phone number I dont know if weve got a digital copier here now; most of the stuff is printed.
Okay, so youre 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: Lets agree, that there are some people who are not happy because they are not here. I dont have an issue with that; now Im going to discuss with you, what went on here positive with the economy thats 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 Im 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, youre going to find there are people who contributed to the Bush Campaign, and some who contributed to the other campaigns! Well forgive em for that.
All right, now lets backtrack for a second. You said some of the detractors arent there; who are some of the high profile folks that are not there?
Rod Paige: I dont know the high profiles youre 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 Im not sure who those people are.
The story Im referring to is actually on August 9th, sir. It seems if you were fairly read, on whats 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 youd 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, youre 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 thats wonderful of him, because this is the United States of America!
Well, you said at the beginning of the conversation that you didnt know where the waitress came from but
Rod Paige: I do not know! Because there are close to 500 people here, and I dont remember a particular person who is a waitress
All right; well lets talk about the good things going on with the forum, here.
Rod Paige: Hello!! Are you still there?
Yes, Lets talk about the good things.
Rod Paige: Did you say, Lets talk about the good things?
Lets talk about the good things whats 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 thats what we wanted to have occur.
Now, youre 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 Americas 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; its 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, Id 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 hasnt made a decision yet?
Rod Paige: I dont know if hes 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 Courts 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 nations 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 theyre 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 dont want to debate Jesse Jackson Jr. or any other detractors about that; Im 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 dont need to debate them about it. I know how school systems work, and I dont have to argue about it, from a political perspective.
But when youre talking about school vouchers here, were talking about the possibility of some of these private schools increasing their tuition, just because you are handing out vouchers
Rod Paige: But it doesnt 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, Im for it closing down, just like the public school!
Whats 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, youre up and aboard with Secretary Paige.
Eric: Yeah, Im just curious, he said that Vouchers are going to save Black people, where? I dont understand how he can feel that way the majority of Black people well, not the majority, but
Rod Paige: See thats not true! Hes wrong! It is not the majority
Eric: I didnt ask a question how am I wrong?
He didnt even finish his question!
Rod Paige: Hes making an incorrect statement!
Eric: I didnt even finish my statement!
Rod Paige: That is not true that the majority of Blacks oppose vouchers
Eric: I didnt 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.
Rod Paige: Were 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 cant go and buy something that is more expensive, you go buy something that is less expensive. And its not even altogether clear, that the price of the school has much to do with the learning that children experience. For example, Marva Collinss 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 youre 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: Its 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. Thats my point; there are some good schools that dont cost a lot.
Ron: And so, I mean if the market is going to be unacceptable to the majority of Black Americans, then why cant 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 its 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 theyre 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 Im 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 Im sure you have a lot more answers!
Rod Paige: Well, Ill try them anyway thanks!