NEA Calls for Paige's Resignation

The National Education Association (search) asked President Bush on Tuesday to fire Education Secretary Rod Paige (search) for calling the union a "terrorist organization."

The White House said Paige's job was safe.

Paige, who made his comment in a private meeting with governors Monday, later apologized for his choice of words but maintained the union uses "obstructionist scare tactics" in its fight over the nation's education law.

Reg Weaver (search), president of the union of 2.7 million teachers and other school workers, said Tuesday that those members deserve more than "unfair labels and mean-spirited apologies."

"Our members say that once again this national leader has insulted them, this time beyond repair, with words filled with hatred — and merely because they raised legitimate concerns about the president's so-called 'No Child Left Behind' law." Weaver asked Bush "to express his regret to the nation's educators and demand that Secretary Paige step down."

Paige said he is not leaving.

"I have a job to do and that is to make sure that we remain steadfast in our efforts to provide a quality education to all our children — every single one," Paige said. "I remain committed to ensuring that the promise of No Child Left Behind (search) — getting all of our nation's students reading and doing math at grade level — is fulfilled."

Bush spokesman Trent Duffy said: "The president wants the secretary to do his job, which is to improve public education for America's school children."

Championed by Bush, the new education law calls for expanded standardized testing, top teachers in all core classes, school choices for many parents and several other reforms.

The NEA says it does not oppose the law but wants Congress to change some of its provisions. And it wants to recruit states to sue the Bush administration over funding of the law, a move Paige has equated to assembling a "coalition of the whining to hold kids back."

At least two Democratic lawmakers, Betty McCollum of Minnesota and Jim McDermott of Washington, called for Paige to resign or be removed from his job. But otherwise, Paige's comments did not seem to cause immediate fallout for him on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, key Democrats who ensured the law won strong support in 2001 met with Paige on Tuesday to share their frustration in the way his agency enforces the measure.

Their concerns — particularly those of Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Rep. George Miller of California — are significant because they threaten to erode the bipartisanship that Bush officials often cite in promoting the law.

The Democrats say the Education Department has misinterpreted or ignored sections of the law ranging from civil rights and parental involvement to the qualifications of tutors.

"These are very technical, but they reach the heart of the issues," said Kennedy. He may offer a bill to change the law if he remains unsatisfied with the department, and Kennedy said Paige's response Tuesday "does not address the real challenges we face."

Paige gave the Democrats a letter assuring serious enforcement of the law and noting that he will not rush out guidance or interpretations for schools without thorough review. He said he looked forward to more cooperation with Republicans and Democrats in making the law work.