Monday, December 15, 2008

Obama Picks Arne Duncan for Education Post

The rumor I heard was right: NPR, the Chicago Tribune and the NY Times blog (see below) are all reporting that Obama has picked Arne Duncan to be Secretary of Education (plus there's a press conference tomorrow). 
This is AMAZING news and genuine school reformers should be celebrating!!!  I predict that Duncan, with Obama's support, is going to be transformational and make a huge difference in the lives of millions of American children.
My main concern at this point is who Obama picks as Duncan's #2.  Here is what I sent out about this 10 days ago:

Deputy Secretary of Education

The Deputy Secretary of Education is a powerful and important position, so in addition to picking a strong Secretary, Obama also needs to choose an equally strong, reform-oriented #2.  From what I hear, while Linda Darling-Hammond has no chance of being Secretary, but there might be a natural inclination by the Obama team to throw her (and the unions) a bone by making her Deputy Secretary, which would be a disaster.  Do NOT underestimate her: she’s influential, clever and (while she does her best to hide it) an enemy of genuine reform, so she could totally undermine whomever is Secretary.  Let’s be realistic – she’s likely get some position in the DOE, but it must not be the powerful #2 position.  (For more on LDH, see the article below and my thoughts on her at:


Instead of LDH, there are many other superstars who would be great #2’s such as the following four people (listed in alphabetical order; full bios are at the end of this email):


n     Michael Lomax, the President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.  He’s been a teacher, elected official and university president, and serves on the national boards of KIPP and Teach for America, among others.  


n     Ted Mitchell, the CEO of the NewSchools Venture Fund.  He was formerly the President of Occidental College (coincidentally, where Obama attended before transferring to Columbia).


n     Andrew Rotherham, the co-founder and co-director of Education Sector, an independent national education policy think tank. He is a member of the Virginia Board of Education, launched the Progressive Policy Institute's 21st Century Schools Project, and served at The White House as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy during the Clinton administration, where he managed education policy activities at the White House and advised President Clinton on a wide range of education issues.


n     Jon Schnur, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of New Leaders for New Schools, who is currently on a leave of absence to advise Obama on education issues.  He was a policy advisor on K-12 education in president Bill Clinton's administration for seven years, serving as White House Associate Director for Educational Policy, Vice President Gore's Senior Policy Advisor on education, and Special Assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.


Obviously only one of these guys can get the #2 position, but all of them should be offered other senior positions in the DOE, as it’s critical that genuine reformers are in key staff positions throughout the DOE.

In addition to being happy for my country and its children, I'm personally breathing a sigh of relief because I stuck my neck out in saying very publicly (see my blog post, below) years ago that Obama:
A) Understood the crisis in American K-12 public education and, deep in his core, was committed to addressing it;
B) Knew that the old union-driven nostrums of spending more money to hire more teachers to reduce class size wouldn't work;
C) Embraced most of the new approches that DO work: high standards and expectations, accountability, differential pay for teachers, removing ineffective teachers, fostering the growth of high-quality charter schools, etc.; and
D) Was willing to spend political capital and take political risks on this issue. 
We haven't answered all of these questions definitively -- C) and D) will take time to see -- but Duncan's appointment (and other things Obama has said and done) I think put to rest many of the worries in the education reform community -- believe me, I heard them! -- about whether Obama was one of us.
December 15, 2008, 5:30 pm

Obama Picks Arne Duncan for Education Post

President-elect Barack Obama will name Arne Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago, to be his Secretary of Education, a senior Democratic official and a second person close to the decision said.

Mr. Duncan is a Harvard graduate whose friendship with Mr. Obama began on the basketball court and flowered into frequent discussions of education policy.

He has seven years’ experience as chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, where he has earned a solid reputation for confronting pressing issues in public education, like how to raise teacher quality, how to transform weak schools and when to shutter those that are irredeemably failing.

Word of the selection comes as Mr. Obama’s transition team said Monday that he would make an important announcement on Tuesday morning at the Dodge Renaissance Academy, an elementary school that Mr. Duncan and Mr. Obama visited together in October 2005.

This is what I initially posted on my blog ( two years ago (updated a tiny bit since then) about Obama and education reform:

School Reform

Obama recently gave a speech (posted here) in which he compellingly laid out the crisis in our public schools and, critically, was the most specific and the most bold he's been to date about what he would do about it as President.  He really pushed the reform agenda and, in doing so, courageously took on the most powerful interest group in the Democratic Party, the teachers unions.  Click here to read my blog post about this.

I think this is an issue he feels very strongly about because he’s black and our school system is failing black children to an especially alarming degree.  I’ve posted a few pages from each of Obama’s two books in which he talks about this issue (Obamaonschoolreform-book1 and Obamaonschoolreform-book2).  Here is an excerpt from Dreams from My Father:

“I decided it was time to take on public schools.

“It seemed like a natural issue for us.  Segregation wasn’t much of an issue anymore; whites had all but abandoned the system.  Neither was overcrowding, at least in black neighborhood high schools; only half the incoming students bothered to stick around for graduation.  Otherwise, Chicago’s public schools remained in a state of perpetual crisis – annual budget shortfalls in the hundreds of millions; shortages of textbooks and toilet paper; a teachers’ union that went out on strike at least once every two years; a bloated bureaucracy and an indifferent state legislature.  The more I learned about the system, the most convinced I became that school reform was the only possible solution for the plight of the young men I saw on the street; that without stable families, with no prospects for blue-collar work that could support a family of their own, education was their last best hope.  And so in April, in between working on other issues, I developed an action plan for the organization and started peddling it to my leadership.

“The response was underwhelming.

“Some of it was a problem of self-interest, constituencies misaligned.  Older church members told me they had already raised their children; younger parents, like Angela and Mary, sent their children to Catholic schools.  The biggest source of resistance was rarely talked about, though – namely, the uncomfortable fact that every one of our churches was filled with teachers, principals, and district superintendents.  Few of these educators sent their own children to public schools; they knew too much for that.  But they would defend the status quo with the same skill and vigor as their white counterparts of two decades before.  There wasn’t enough money to do the job right, they told me (which was certainly true).  Efforts at reform – decentralization, say, or cutbacks in the bureaucracy – were part of a white effort to wrest back control (not so true).  As for the students, well, they were impossible.  Lazy.  Unruly.  Slow.  Not the children’s fault, maybe, but certainly not the schools’.  There may not be any back kids, Barack, but there sure are a lot of bad parents.

“In my mind, these conversations came to serve as a symbol of the unspoken settlement we had made since the 1960s, a settlement that allowed half of our children to advance even as the other half fell further behind.  More than that, the conversations made me angry; and so despite lukewarm support from our board, Johnnie and I decided to go ahead and visit some of the area schools, hoping to drum up a constituency beyond the young parents of Altgeld.”

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