Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos, who resigned abruptly Wednesday, was forced out after White House chief of staff John Sununu gave him his walking papers, administration officials confirmed Thursday.

Cavazos, 63, the first Hispanic American to serve in the Cabinet, met with Sununu on Tuesday and was told that President Bush wanted him to quit by the end of the month, The New York Times reported.White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater told United Press International that Cavazos "just got in his car and drove away" following his meeting with Sununu. Fitzwater said Cavazos called his top aide and asked him to inform the White House that he was resigning.

"He did have a meeting with Sununu," Fitzwater said, "and he and Sununu talked about his future. Clearly something happened."

"He worked hard, was loyal and dedicated. I don't want to be the one to dump on him. He did a good job," Fitzwater said.

Bush announced the resignation at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that Cavazos did not attend. Bush said he accepted Cavazos' resignation "with deep regret."

Bush, the self-described "education president" called Cavazos "my good friend" in a speech to a governor's leadership group Wednesday afternoon, but administration officials indicated that Cavazos, a low-key operator, was not aggressive enough for the White House.

Officials said that Sununu was playing his designated role as "enforcer" in delivering the bad news to Cavazos. Undersecretary Ted Sanders was named acting secretary until a successor is nominated.

Dissatisfaction with Cavazos was long rumored in the White House. He was first appointed by President Reagan in August 1988 to succeed William Bennett and was held over by Bush. Cavazos had been president of Texas Tech University when he joined the Reagan administration.

During his tenure, critics complained he did not use his office as a "bully pulpit" to encourage educational improvement and that student achievement actually got worse.

Even Cavazos called the most recent Nation's Report Card, using 1988 data, "a compendium of disappointment."

Some suggested replacements for Cavazos - although none has been officially announced - include former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, now president of Drew University; and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander; as well as Rep. Lynn Martin, R-Ill., who lost her bid to unseat Demoratic Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois; and Rep. Patricia Saiki, R-Hawaii.

The resignation leaves two vacancies in the Bush Cabinet. Elizabeth Dole resigned as labor secretary last month and a successor is expected to be named to her post before the end of the year.