Campaigning on behalf of President Bush's education package, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige yesterday called on school systems across the country to emulate the science, math and technology programs in place at one of Anne Arundel County's high schools.
"Unfortunately, not every school in America is as good as this one," Paige told students and teachers at South River High School. "We must focus on studying math and science."
Paige made his brief visit to the school in Edgewater to mark what Bush has proclaimed "Global Science and Technology Week," and he praised Maryland's education reform program as being closer to what the president is seeking in contrast with most other states.
"Maryland is one of the leaders when it comes to accountability and testing," Paige said in a interview after touring the school. "The president wants a testing program that would test all children in grades 3 through 8 to ensure no children are left behind. No state is there yet."
Paige also downplayed fears that additional testing puts too much pressure on schools, teachers or students, dismissing the possibility that it might prompt more incidents of cheating.
"It's not so much the testing that causes problems as the individuals involved in the tests," Paige said, pointing to an incident revealed this week in which teachers at a Montgomery County middle school apparently violated test security on a standardized math test.
"While we focus on one or two or three or four people acting improperly, look at the many thousands of others across the county who are acting appropriately," said Paige, who before his federal appointment was the widely praised superintendent of schools in Houston.
In keeping with the president's education theme of "No Child Left Behind," Paige took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of school systems across the country offering students the same opportunities as those available in such suburban systems as Anne Arundel's.
"I think there are pockets of excellence in the U.S.," Paige said. "But there are many systems that are leaving children behind."
Paige spent a few minutes in a technology classroom watching pre-calculus students interact over the Internet with students at a high school in Bolivia. Students in both places worked on a complex math problem at the same time, sharing questions and strategies through both typewritten exchanges and online video.
"It was amazing what they were doing," Paige said.
South River students and county school administrators said they agreed with Paige's message about the need to put more resources into science, technology and math education.
"His emphasis on math and science programs is exactly what we need," said Anne Arundel Superintendent Carol S. Parham.
Students and teachers also said they were honored by Paige's decision to visit South River, which was named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 1997-1998.
"We're all feeling pretty good about this," said sophomore Ryan Hendrickson, 15, who introduced Paige during the school assembly. "It's a great day for South River."