Roderick Raynor Paige was born in Monticello, Mississippi, on 17 June 1933. Though many people in segregated Mississippi expected little in the way of educational achievement from African American children, Paige’s mother was a librarian, and his father was a school principal. Paige earned a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University and master’s and doctoral degrees from Indiana University.
After serving in the US Navy from 1955 to 1957, Paige started his career as a teacher and coach at Hinds Agricultural High School and Utica Junior College from 1957 to 1963. He then moved to Jackson State, where he served as head football coach from 1964 to 1968. In 1971 he accepted the same position at Texas Southern University, a historically black institution in Houston, coaching until 1975, when he switched his focus to administration and became the school’s athletic director. He taught at Texas Southern from 1980 to 1984 before becoming dean of the university’s College of Education. While serving in that role, he created the Center for Excellence in Urban Education.
Paige served as a trustee and officer of the Board of Education of the Houston Independent School District from 1990 to 1994, when he left Texas Southern and became the district’s superintendent. In 2001 the American Association of School Administrators named Paige National Superintendent of the Year.
In 2001 Pres. George W. Bush selected Paige to serve as secretary of education, the first school superintendent to hold that office. Paige played an instrumental role in securing passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a controversial reform measure that sought to increase public school accountability. Paige’s belief that programs such as affirmative action represented a poor way to fight racial discrimination raised a critical eye among liberals, but Paige consistently challenged the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations that claimed to speak for all African Americans: “I have a message for the NAACP’s Julian Bond and Kweisi Mfume, who have accused black conservatives of being ‘puppets’ of white people, unable to think for ourselves: You do not own, and you are not the arbiters of, African American authenticity.” In 2004 Paige sparked a firestorm when he called the largest US teachers’ union, the National Education Association, a “terrorist organization,” though he immediately apologized for his “inappropriate choice of words.”
Paige resigned from the Department of Education in 2005 and became chair of a consulting firm, the Chartwell Education Group. Paige continued his support for strict accountability and his criticism of some teacher unions with his 2007 book, The War against Hope: How Teachers’ Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education. In 2010 he and Elaine Witty coauthored The Black-White Achievement Gap: Why Closing It Is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time. He has served as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as well as on the boards of numerous education-related organizations. He continues to speak publicly on education issues, remaining a staunch advocate of school-choice programs. In November 2016, Paige became the interim president of Jackson State Universtity.
- Dallas Morning News, 6 February 2015
- Rod Paige, The War against Hope: How Teachers’ Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education (2007)
- Rod Paige website, www.rodpaige.com
- Thomas B. Fordham Institute website, http://edexcellence.net/about-us/fordham-staff/rod-paige
- US Department of Education website, www.ed.gov