Group Delivers Petitions Urging Education Secretary's Ouster

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - Saying they are angered by Education Secretary Rod Paige's comparison of the National Education Association to "a terrorist organization," an anti-Bush group Thursday sent the administration a petition signed by a quarter million parents and teachers calling for Paige's resignation.

The Campaign for America's Future said Paige's comments -- during a private meeting with governors on Feb. 23 -- outraged petition signers so much that they raised "tens of thousands of dollars overnight" to post ads at bus stops and subway platforms near Paige's office.

Paige later apologized for his remarks, saying, "It was an inappropriate choice of words to describe the obstructionist scare tactics the NEA's Washington lobbyists have employed against No Child Left Behind's historic education reforms."

The Campaign for America's Future -- a group that wants to "take back America" from conservatives -- accused the Bush administration of attacking teachers instead of listening to them to ensure a better education for students. More than one-third of petition signers, according to the group, identified themselves as parents. About one-quarter said they are teachers.

One woman who signed the petition said she felt personally attacked by Paige's comment.

"I am a teacher. I am not a terrorist," said Michelle Beckwith, a Columbus, Ohio teacher. "As educators, we try to do our best for our students. We need the support of our government, and this shows that they are not behind us."

Sheri Ahl of Minneapolis, Minn., and Adam Howard of Lansing, Mich., who both signed the petition, said the Bush administration inappropriately uses the war on terror for politics.

"The term 'terrorists' is not to be taken lightly in these times," said Ahl. "I am greatly saddened that the Secretary of Education would resort to such labeling of those who have devoted their professional careers to helping leave no child behind."

"This is so typical of the Bush administration," said Howard. "Instead of addressing the concerns of the people affected by their education policy, it calls their patriotism into question."

Campaign for America's Future President Robert Borosage said the administration is attacking teachers, even as Bush breaks his own promise of funding the reforms called for in the No Child Left Behind Act.

"People across the country are upset President Bush has broken his education promises. It is time to turn the 'Paige,'" said Borosage, adding that the president's budget calls for cuts in future investments in education.

Borosage's group has attacked the Bush administration on a number of fronts -- not just education. "We challenge those who suggest that nothing can be done and expose the conservative agenda that has made things worse," its website says. "America's Future works to revitalize a progressive agenda, and fights to make this economy work for working people once again."

In a speech at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government on Thursday, Education Secretary Paige said millions of children are still being left behind. He pointed to studies showing that only 1 in 6 black students and 1 in 5 Hispanic students can read at grade level by the time they reach 12th grade; the numbers are even worse for math scores.

"When a child is left behind, it is not just a problem for that child, it is a problem for the rest of the nation," Paige said in his speech on Thursday.

He urged a bipartisan solution to the problem.

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