Yesterday President-Elect Obama selected Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan as his new education secretary. Many had speculated that Obama would choose Joel Klein, the NY Public Schools Chancellor/Overlord who has increased both the achievement and tension within the public school system. Others speculated that Michelle Rhee, DC chancellor, would have represented the change of the neo-educational reform movement. Rhee, the product of Teach for America, represented the no-nonsense achievement minded reformers who fought to increase the power of the administration and reduce the power of the union. Other scholars proposed Linda Darling-Hammond, the anti-TFA crusader who proposed more long-term reforms to the school system. Somewhere Wendy Kopp felt a tremor in the force, and she’s didn’t quite know why.
Look, while many of the education secretaries have their political baggage (albeit perceived or fabricated), all would probably agree that major issues face our system today and the position must be filled by someone able to reach across the political aisles for support. In the end, achievement is not a partisan issue; it’s something that all Americans are in favor of and support. K-12 education—which Mr. Duncan has advocated for—is the top priority of the Obama administration. It is obvious with these changes and the selection of Mr. Duncan that substantial changes are imminent in the educational system. The question is, will they be effective?
If Mr. Duncan wants to make the most of his position, he should start by analyzing what his competition has accomplished in their respective fields and the problems each faced. Klein and Rhee have had to combat militant members of the union, some of whom are so focused on teacher tenure that they forget the students lost in translation. And while Wendy Kopp and Linda Darling-Hammond might battle over pedagogical concerns, both agree that there is an achievement gap in America, and something must be done to mitigate it’s detrimental factors.
In the end, this isn’t an endorsement, but rather a recognition of a step in the right direction. Mr. Duncan is neither deeply-politically rooted nor brash. He seems to be the voice of reason, with the seems being the underlying idea of the former clause. Ultimately Mr. Duncan must consider that, in the end, his position as education secretary is unfortunately highly politicized, and it would behoove him to become settled right away in Washington and map out the strategy of teacher retention, student achievement, and dealings with that omnipresent teacher union. I mean, there’s no rush really: After all, it’s only our childrens’ futures at stake.