Born in Monticello, Mississippi, Secretary Paige is the son of public school educators. He earned a bachelor's degree from Jackson State University in Mississippi and a Master's degree and a doctorate from Indiana University at Bloomington.
Paige began his career coaching college-level athletics. He then served for a decade as Dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University. He also established the university's Center for Excellence in Urban Education, a research facility that concentrates on issues related to instruction and management in urban school systems.
As a trustee and an officer of the Board of Education of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) from 1989 to 1994, Secretary Paige coauthored the board's A Declaration of Beliefs and Visions, a statement of purpose and goals for the school district that called for fundamental reform through decentralization, a focus on instruction, accountability at all levels, and development of a core curriculum. A Declaration of Beliefs and Visions was the catalyst that launched the ongoing, comprehensive restructuring of HISD.
Secretary Paige became the superintendent of schools of HISD in 1994. As superintendent, Secretary Paige created the Peer Examination, Evaluation, and Redesign (PEER) program, which solicits recommendations from business and community professionals for strengthening school support services and programs. He launched a system of charter schools that have broad authority in decisions regarding staffing, textbooks, and materials. He saw to it that HISD paid teachers salaries competitive with those offered by other large Texas school districts. Secretary Paige made HISD the first school district in the state to institute performance contracts modeled on those in the private sector, whereby senior staff members' continued employment with HISD is based on their performance. He also introduced teacher incentive pay, which rewards teachers for outstanding performance and creative solutions to educational problems.
Secretary Paige has served on review committees of the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education's Task Force on High School Education, and he has chaired the Youth Employment Issues Subcommittee of the National Commission for Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. An African American, he is a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He is a former member of the Houston Job Training Partnership Council, the Community Advisory Board of Texas Commerce Bank, the American Leadership Forum, and the Board of Directors of the Texas Business and Education Coalition.
Secretary Paige has been active on the Education Commission of the States, as well as the Council of the Great City Schools, which bestowed on him its Richard R. Green Award as the outstanding urban educator of 1999. In 2000 Secretary Paige received the Harold W. McGraw, Jr., Prize in Education for his commitment to the improvement of education and the National Association of Black School Educators' Superintendent of the Year award. In 2001, he was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.