The world remains safe for Harvard grads:
Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools superintendent known for taking tough steps to improve schools while maintaining respectful relations with teachers and their unions, is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice as secretary of education, Democratic officials said Monday.
Mr. Duncan, a 44-year-old Harvard graduate, has raised achievement in the nation’s third-largest school district and often faced the ticklish challenge of shuttering failing schools and replacing ineffective teachers, usually with improved results.
He represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.
In June, rival nationwide groups of educators circulated competing educational manifestos, with one group espousing a get-tough policy based on pushing teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement, and another arguing that schools alone could not close the racial achievement gap and urging new investments in school-based health clinics and other social programs to help poor students learn.
Mr. Duncan was the only big-city superintendent to sign both manifestos.
This pick wins raves from the Freakonomist:
Freakonomics readers will remember Arne as the hero of our chapter on teacher cheating. He was head of the Chicago Public Schools when Brian Jacob and I were investigating how teachers and administrators were doctoring standardized test sheets.
With seemingly nothing to gain and much to lose, Arne embraced our results, even allowing us to do audit testing to confirm our hypotheses. Eventually, a handful of teachers were fired.
Since then, I’ve interacted with Arne a few times, and in a variety of settings. I always walk away dazzled. He is smart as hell and his commitment to the kids is remarkable. If you wanted to start from scratch and build a public servant, Arne would be the end product.
Steve Diamond calls this a defeat for the Bill Ayers faction:
Bill Ayers and co. lost a big battle today with the announcement that Arne Duncan will be Obama's Education Secretary. Duncan is one of the "Big 4," as Ayers calls the four reform oriented school superintendents Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and Paul Vallas. And Ayers has been part of a nationwide effort among certain self-styled "progressive" and "social justice" oriented education activists and educators to lobby against the Big 4. Ayers was, of course, plugging for race theorist, anti-union small schools advocate and education school figure Linda Darling-Hammond.
Excellent - if Bill Ayers is frowning I am smiling, since my worst fears are not being realized.
The EduWonk calls it "a good pick on several levels".
The Chi Trib has lots, including this biographical tidbit:
He returned to Chicago in 1992 to direct the Ariel Education Initiative for underprivileged children on the South Side. He led an effort to bring marquee academic programs—such as Advanced Placement classes, accelerated and gifted programs—to neighborhood schools long viewed as academic backwaters.
Obama was chairing the Chicago Annenberg Challenge for several years starting in 1996 so the two could have met then, but the tax returns of the CAC don't show any money given to Ariel (on which, a bit more below). Well, since Duncan was a deputy chief of staff to the school commissioner in 1998 they two men should have met then.
Alexander Russo wrote about Obama's school days in Slate.
BOOING FROM THE RIGHT AND LEFT: I would urge Ms. Zanotti, the American Princess, to read the Russo article and reflect. The great debate in Chicago was about the relative power of Local School Councils vis a vis the central authority of the mayor and the school commissioner. Duncan was on the opposite side of this debate from Ayers and Obama (Ayers thought, sensibly enough, that it would be easier to co-opt individual councils than the whole city). In fact, here is how Russo covered this:
Obama's links to local school councils began more than 20 years ago, when they were first being created. His South Side community organizing group, the Developing Communities Project, supported the 1988 reform act that created the councils. A decade later, when Obama was a second-year state senator, he served on the board of several local education foundations that had supported the councils and chaired the board for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a $50 million philanthropic effort that supported local control.
In 1999, hard-charging schools chief Paul Vallas went to the Illinois Legislature to win more control over principal hiring and firing. Vallas headed the Chicago schools between 1995 and 2001. His get-tough initiatives—mandating summer school for students who failed end-of-year exams, for example—got glowing press coverage and earned him not one but two mentions in President Clinton's State of the Union speeches.
Vallas wanted to make sure in 1999 that his precious cadre of experienced principals wouldn't continue to get bounced out of their schools for no good reason. In particular, he wanted to limit the LSCs' power to dismiss principals at the end of their four-year contracts.
Obama was uniquely well-placed to take the lead in mediating this battle. He had a relatively strong background in community and education issues. He was friends and pickup-basketball buddies with Arne Duncan, who was then in charge of magnet schools (and has since taken over Vallas' job). Obama also knew Vallas, who liked him. Then, as now, he was considered a politician who could unify people and resolve challenging conflicts. And in a racially charged debate like this one—Vallas was a tall white guy who sent his kids to parochial school—it didn't hurt that Obama was black.
In fact, Obama did little, but the main point is, he has backed the other side with this appointment.
From the left, if Mike Klonsky is sad, can't righties smile a bit? Mike Klonsky is an old SDS bud of Ayers, and we are hat-tipping our own JM Hanes for the cue. No reaction from blogger Bill Ayers yet.