December 2, 2008
Duncan's the Choice
He was the odds-on favorite in this blog last week, and sure enough, the ninth United States Secretary of Education will be Arne Duncan.
The selection drew strong praise from both sides of the education reform debate, as evidenced by this press release issued by the "disrupter" group, Democrats for Education Reform, and this release from the traditional, "incrementalist" approach champion, the National Education Association. Both sides haled Mr. Duncan as a savvy choice who would put their proposals first--merit pay and charter schools for the "disrupters" and increased funding and teacher pay for the "incrementalists".
If I haven't made it clear before, let me say it again: both sides are not likely to be right regarding Mr. Duncan. With only a limited amount of political capital, not to mention money, available to spend on K-12 reform issues in his earliest days in the White House, President-Elect Obama will be hard pressed to devote the kind of attention that would be needed to appease both sides in this debate.
Arne Duncan has a history of working collaboratively with the unions to achieve some significant results for Chicago's school children during his seven years as CEO of the district, so the potential for success at the federal level certainly exists. But how will he fare when the first set of major challenges comes down the pipeline? For instance, will he consider it a greater priority to push broadly for full-funding of No Child Left Behind (the NEA argues that it is under-funded, when compared to authorization levels, by $71 billion), or will he use increased school funding as a carrot to get unions and other traditional stakeholders to accept change on teacher pay, charger schools, accountability, and other fronts?
To help shed some light on how Mr. Duncan may perform, I dug up this video on YouTube of testimony he gave before the House Education and Labor Committee this past summer on how to close the achievement gap: