Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arne Duncan: A Safe Choice

There couldn't be a better time to start writing on my blog after a week off from posting (sorry, I've been kind of busy). We now know who the next Secretary of Education is going to be: Chicago School Chief Arne Duncan.

And based on everything I have read about him so far, his choice seems to be about two things. First, he is a politically safe choice because he will most likely not upset either side of the current education reform debate. On the one hand, he is appealing to education "reformistas" because he is a big city school chancellor with a history of trying to reform schools, just like his old boss Paul Vallas (who is now in charge of New Orleans Public Schools) Also, his name isn't Linda Darling-Hammond.

On the other hand, he is at least partially appealing to the more traditional/teacher-friendly (for lack of a better term) side of the debate because he isn't as controversial as a Joel Klein or Michelle Rhee. In addition, Teacher Unions don't hate his guts. AFT head Randi Weingarten even says that Duncan "reaches out (to unions) to do things in a collaborative way."

The second thing his choice indicates is that, simply, Duncan is someone Obama can personally trust. He is from Hyde Park in Chicago, has worked with Obama over the years, and has even played basketball with him (in fact, Duncan apparently has a fairly nice basketball career). Just like other Presidents will pick people for their cabinets from back home (including our present Education Secretary), Obama has done the same thing.

I do have some concerns. While he is clearly a safe pick, is that all he is? Is the fact that he didn't pick either a Linda-Darling Hammond or a Michelle Rhee a sign that Obama wants to reach out to both sides of the education reform debate? Or is it just a sign that Obama wants a politically safe pick because education won't be that high of a priority? Plus, as good of a job as Duncan has done in Chicago, will that actually transfer over to a national level? Duncan was in charge of just one school district (even though it is a huge one), but will now be in charge of thousands of school districts in 50 states. Needles to say, it is harder to micromanage things.

Also, it would be nice to have an Education Secretary who has actually taught inside a class. Oh, well.

I personally would have preferred a Linda-Darling Hammond, but I am not opposed to Duncan as a choice. Maybe he is exactly what our education system needs. Let's give the guy a chance and see what he can do.
Picture comes from This Week in Education.

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