Obama Taps Duncan as Education Secretary
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 12:35 pm
Speaking in the American flag-adorned gym of Chicago’s Dodge Renaissance Academy, a public elementary school, President-elect Barack Obama named Arne Duncan as his secretary of education this morning.
Duncan (his first name is pronounced AR-nee), the CEO of the Chicago public school system, has a reputation as a consensus builder, having won friends in both the union and reformist camps. In nominating him, Obama emphasized that “he is not beholden to any one ideology.” It is unclear what approach he will take to divisive issues such as tenure reform.
Duncan highlighted the responsibility that will come with his new position. “No issue is more pressing than education,” he stressed. “It is the civil rights issue of our generation.”
Obama likewise pressed the need for significant change in the country’s approach to education. He lamented the “same tired debates” of “Democrats versus Republicans, vouchers versus the status quo,” and said that “we can’t continue like this. It’s morally unacceptable for our children, and economically untenable for America.”
He also sought to dispel a rumor about the selection of the 6-foot-5 Duncan, an old basketball buddy. “I did not select Arne because he’s one of the best basketball players I know,” he joked, but added, “I think we’re putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in history.”
Duncan does appear to have put together an impressive resume as an education leader in Chicago. The New Republic reports:
Under Duncan’s watch, for instance, Chicago’s schools have undergone a variety of reforms. In that time, the number of students meeting or exceeding standards on the Illinois State Achievement Test in reading has risen almost 25 percent, while in math it’s gone up 34 percent. These numbers have improved among students of all backgrounds; black students, for instance, now meet or exceed math standards at a rate of 60 percent, up 33 points since 2001. And the achievement gap between black and white students has shrunk more than eight points in both subject areas. Dropout rates have also declined by eight percent and graduation rates has increased by the same amount.
Duncan also has strong support from charter school advocates. In a statement this morning, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nelson Smith praised him as “a terrific choice as Education Secretary” with “a nationwide reputation as a reformer who’s strongly supported public charter schools and other innovations geared to raising students’ academic performance.”
But the discussion was not limited to education; once again, Obama was asked about the Blagojevich scandal and the controversy over choosing Obama’s successor in the Senate. This time, he dismissed the question, stating flatly that the U.S. attorney’s office had requested that he not discuss the results of his report on his team’s interaction with the governor.
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