|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Tuesday, March 2, 2004
New York Times 3-2-04
Education Chief Again Apologizes for 'Terrorist' Remark
WASHINGTON, March 1 — Education Secretary Rod Paige was hoping for a friendly exchange of views about a sweeping federal education law when, a month ago, he offered to fly 50 of the nation's best teachers to Washington at government expense.
But as the teachers gathered here on Monday, many said they were still feeling the sting of Mr. Paige's remark that the nation's largest teachers union was a "terrorist organization" and were eager to give the secretary an earful about what they said were arbitrary provisions in the federal law, known as No Child Left Behind.
Dr. Paige quickly used the opportunity to apologize, again, for his words last week.
"I made some inappropriate remarks," he told the teachers, according to a statement distributed to reporters, who were barred from the meeting. "If you took offense at anything I said, please accept my apology. I have nothing but the highest esteem for teachers and the teaching profession."
Betsy Rogers, who last year received the National Teacher of the Year award from President Bush at a White House ceremony, said in an interview after the meeting that Dr. Paige told the teachers twice that "he wished that he could take back his remarks."
"We're not going to focus on it any more," Ms. Rogers said, "but I don't think teachers will ever forget his insulting remark."
Mr. Bush considers the 700-page law, which aims to raise student achievement by penalizing schools where test scores do not rise quickly enough, to be one of his most important domestic achievements. Dr. Paige, expressing frustration last week with the National Education Association's opposition to some provisions in the law, called the union a "terrorist organization."
Wendy Nelson Kauffman, a high school social studies teacher in Bloomfield, Conn., said, "We felt we were listened to today, so maybe we can make some progress and end the adversarial relationship."
The 50 teachers invited to the meeting had been selected as teachers of the year in 2003 by their state governments. About 44 took part in the meeting, officials said.
One who did not participate was Jeffrey R. Ryan, a high school history teacher in Massachusetts. Mr. Ryan sent an e-mail message to the Department of Education saying he considered the Bush administration to be "hostile to public education."
"Considering Secretary Paige's recent remarks about the N.E.A. and the teaching profession," he wrote, "I no longer feel that his invitation is sincere."
Ray Simon, an assistant secretary of education who presided over the meeting after Dr. Paige left, said the department sought to "hear from teachers what help they need to become better at their jobs, and how that assistance can be better delivered."
Teachers said in the meeting that the law had resulted in a "narrowing of the curriculum" because it required testing only in math and language arts, leading some schools to neglect subjects like geography and art, Mr. Simon said in an interview after the meeting. Others expressed concerns that "the money to finance the law is neither equitable or adequate," blaming not only Washington but also state and local governments for the underfinancing, he said.
Jon Runnals, Montana's teacher of the year, who was wearing a lapel button that said "I am the N.E.A!" approached Mr. Simon after the meeting to thank him for listening to teachers' complaints.
Later, at a news conference sponsored by the union, Mr. Runnals criticized the law's provision that all teachers be "highly qualified." Like many other Montana science instructors, Mr. Runnals teaches several subjects: astronomy, geology, physics and biology. "And since I don't have a degree in those subjects, I am not considered highly qualified," he said.
Susan Aspey, an Education Department spokeswoman, said the law allowed veteran teachers to demonstrate competency in each subject they taught by taking a test written by their state. Montana, however, has not written such a test and lacks the money to do so because of a budget crisis, Mr. Runnals said. Participants in the meeting said that one teacher, Elspeth Corrigan Moore, a librarian at Memorial High School in West New York, N.J., wept as she discussed Dr. Paige's comparison of the teachers union to terrorists. Ms. Moore said after the meeting that because her school had a direct line of sight to downtown Manhattan, she and many students could see the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I watched it burn, and I smelled it burn, so I take the word terrorist personally," she said.
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