Duncan’s the one

Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago schools, will be Obama’s secretary of Education. Duncan was no miracle man in Chicago, as Eduwonkette has pointed out. And he’s not as radical as D.C.’s Michelle Rhee. But he’s faced the biggest problems in education in Chicago — and he’s a personal friend of Barack Obama.

This Week in Education lists Duncan’s strengths and weaknesses.

AP sees Duncan as a compromise choice:

Reform advocates wanted a big-city school superintendent who, like Duncan, has sought accountability for schools and teachers. And teachers’ unions, an influential segment of the party base, wanted an advocate for their members; they have said they believe Duncan is willing to work with them.

“Arne Duncan actually reaches out and tries to do things in a collaborative way,” Randi Weingarten, head of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, told The Associated Press earlier this month.

Duncan deliberately straddled the factions earlier this year when he signed competing manifestos from each side of the debate.

In analyzing Obama’s options, David Brooks called Duncan the reformers’ best hope.

He has the political skills necessary to build a coalition on behalf of No Child Left Behind reauthorization. Because he is close to both Obamas, he will ensure that education doesn’t fall, as it usually does, into the ranks of the second-tier issues.

Alfie Kohn attacked reformers, such as Duncan, as more-of-the-same traditionalists in the Nation.

Diana Senechal criticized their muddy language on Core Knowledge, taking Kohn’s arguments apart.

Update: Eduwonk points out that Obama made the announcement at a turnaround school run by Academy for Urban School Leadership.

Duncan was willing to expose cheating on tests by administrators and teachers, writes Freakonomics:

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.

“Obama has picked a true reformer, a skilled diplomat and a man he trusts implicitly,” writes Carl Cannon.

The Fordhamites like Duncan, if only because he was the favored candidate in Flypaper’s six-week pick-the-secretary poll.  Mike Petrilli warns that Duncan is a man for all opinions:

He’s widely (and fairly) seen as the “consensus candidate,” bridging the divides between two camps within the Democratic Party (the reformers and the establishment). But he’s not so much a compromise as a canvas upon which people of various persuasions can paint their hopes and dreams (much like his boss). To the reformers, he’s a crusader for charter schools and merit pay. To the unions he’s a conciliator and peacemaker. To NCLB supporters he’s an accountability hawk. To NCLB detractors he’s a “flexibility” proponent. Which of these things is he really? Time will tell.

A “terrific pick,” writes Checker Finn. But let him pick his own team.

Rep. George Miller, D-California, a liberal who’s been a No Child Left Behind stalwart, likes Duncan.

About Joanne


  1. Sister Howitzer says:

    I’m breathing a sigh of relief. Thank goodness it wasn’t Linda Darling-Hammond.

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    Or Bill Ayers!

  3. Here’s a thought.

    President-elect Obama chose not to send his kids to Chicago Public Schools, and then chose the head of the Chicago Public School District to be his education secretary?

    Reminds me of that old saying…

    What’s not good enough for me, is good enough for everybody else.

    Or something like that.

  4. Rory, criticizing anyone for his schooling choices is out of bounds. Period.

  5. I nice sampling of the reaction to Duncan’s appointment. Thanks.

  6. Scratch that “I” for an “A”

  7. Rory was making an observation Criticism would be: “What is wrong with the Obama’s? Only an idiot would send their child to Sidwell Friends instead of the DC public schools.”

  8. Diana Senechal says:

    Joanne, thank you for mentioning my piece and representing it as a criticism of the “muddy language” of both Brooks and Kohn. That was how I intended it, though I focused on Kohn’s points.

  9. Because Chicago’s schools have done so well, you see…..

  10. Quite frankly, I think the Sidwell school and the Chicago Lab schools are only better because they are selective. I guarantee if you take the private school teachers and put them into the public schools, and visa versa, the schools would get the same results. I choose to send my kids to public schools because I see through the hype.

    I also don’t think school choice is out of bounds at all, in fact it’s one of the most revealing decisions that a public figure can make.

    Simply put, either Obama doesn’t believe public schools are adequate (and he could of chosen any public or charter school in Chicago), or he simply doesn’t want his kids associating with common people.

    Just because Arne Duncan is a good choice, doesn’t mean that Obama still isn’t a hypocrit when it comes to public schools and education.

    And just in case people accuse me of being a “pro-voucher” advocate, I am completely against vouchers.

  11. I apologize for not spell checking above.

  12. William F. Buckley should be happy, close as we are to being governed by the first 200 names in the phone book.

  13. …not that it’s necessarily a bad thing.

  14. Richard Aubrey says:


  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Note that the criticism is of Obama. He’s choosing for the EdSec a guy whose previous gig was running schools which were so bad Obama wouldn’t put his kids in them.
    Of course, it wasn’t all his fault. But the point is that many on the dem side want to limit choice to those who have the necessarily big bucks to pay for it, and not allow vouchers.
    The proles have to take the crap. Um. Is that new?