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Thursday, October 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

U.S. education secretary quizzed

By Linda Shaw
Seattle Times staff reporter

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U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige faced some sharp questions yesterday at a town-hall forum in South Seattle, one of a half-dozen such events he's holding across the nation.

The crowd at the New Holly Gathering Hall, which seemed to include as many teachers and principals as parents, raised numerous concerns, including the adequacy of funding for the 3-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, the effect of high-stakes tests on students and why politicians often come to low-income communities to promote a program and say it's for their benefit.

It was the second time in a week Paige had made an appearance in Seattle. Last Thursday he presented a federal award to the International School in Bellevue and addressed the Northwest Asian American Education Alliance about the value of No Child Left Behind, the law that President Bush heralds as one of his top achievements in office.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry — and many other Democrats — voted for the law. But Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, also contends that the Bush administration hasn't fully funded it. And the law has been controversial in Washington state and elsewhere because it includes sanctions for schools and districts where students don't meet ever-increasing test-score goals.

In his opening remarks, Paige stressed that No Child Left Behind seeks to ensure all children get the education they deserve, especially minority children who, as a group, haven't done well.

He encouraged parents to be more forceful in addressing any learning problems their children have. "Boldly go and find out what the problem is, because this is a problem that has to be fixed," he said.

When it was time for questions, an assistant read some off index cards provided to the audience. But Paige quickly started taking questions verbally because people wanted him to.

When Paige talked about his support for charter schools, he got some boos. And the questioner who asked: "Where's the beef?" in the funding for No Child Left Behind got the biggest round of applause.

Paige, however, stressed the value of options such as charter schools, and he pointed out that No Child Left Behind provides more federal help for schools than ever before. He suggested that the audience find the federal budget and look. (Many state officials have said it isn't enough to cover the costs it carries.)

It wasn't an entirely testy crowd. Paige got smatterings of applause when he talked about how strongly he believes all children can learn.
He insisted that the crowd clap for him when he agreed with a questioner who was suspicious of the word "reform." Paige said he didn't like that word either, and didn't use it. In all, he took about 15 questions before he started to head for the door, stopping every few feet for a photo or to sign an autograph. He ended the questions after he handed his microphone to a woman in the front who turned to face the crowd to make a statement.

"The federal government has a right to expect results for the money it gives to states," she said.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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