Flypaper

The Education Gadfly

What's the future for education reform now that Arne Duncan's been named education secretary? You can listen to Mike opining on this topic during last night's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (which also featured Andy Rotherham from Ed Sector) or listen to Checker and Michele Norris talking about the same issue on NPR's All Things Considered.

A colleague writes in to say:

The Duncan appointment is good news, however, I'm still hearing that LDH may get Institute for Education Sciences Commissioner.?? That is almost at the level of a classical tragedy--the??Roman sack of Carthage, the burning of the library at Alexandria.

She would destroy everything Russ Whitehurst built.?? It's like having a creationist head the National Science Foundation.

This is non-partisan position. ??We just want a well-respected researcher heading IES who will push rigorous, scientifically-based research on what works.??????

Every serious education researcher to whom I've spoken is aghast at the idea of her taking over the agency.??

That's the headline of a thoughtful letter in today's Washington Post, coming to the defense of Tom Nida, who's under fire from some who question whether his day job at United Bank conflicts with his role as chair of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. I came to his defense here, but today's letter-writer puts it best:

No one works harder than Thomas A. Nida to improve the educational outcomes of D.C. students. He is a tireless advocate for change in what is acknowledged to be a broken public school system. As thanks for his selfless service, The Post found it appropriate to pillory him on the front page... The implied message is that if you do business in the District, don't even think about volunteering in public affairs. Lord knows, if the District were to actually benefit from some of your volunteer work, your business might benefit as well, and that would constitute a conflict of interest! By this logic, only retirees, government employees and journalists would be qualified to serve on public boards.

This article has done enormous damage to the effort to engage volunteers from the business

...

We are seeking a staff assistant for our D.C. office--if you want to join our terrific team, please read the job description and apply now!

As a thinker tanker, I have to assume that this line in President-Elect Obama's speech yesterday was aimed at people like me:

When??Arne speaks to educators across America, it won't be from up in some ivory tower,* but from the lessons he's learned during his years changing our schools, from the bottom up.

But I take solace in knowing that Linda Darling-Hammond lives in an Ivory Tower too. So for today I'm going to take this as another promising sign that she's heading back to Palo Alto.

* By the way, wasn't it the Bush Administration that was famous for anti-intellectualism? This is the kind of rhetoric typically associated with the right. Interesting.

Amy Fagan

Arne Duncan isn't the only one who has had a busy week! Fordham's Checker and Mike have been quoted in numerous articles over the past few days, giving their views on Obama's pick for education secretary. Those have included pieces in The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Chronicle of Higher Ed, National Review Online, and more......!!...

The main media "narrative" of today's ed-sec pick is that Arne Duncan was the "compromise" candidate that both reformers and the teachers union camp within the Democratic Party could abide. Fair enough. Everyone sees something in Arne Duncan that they can claim as their own.

But as I mentioned earlier, "compromise" isn't quite the right concept , and it's not likely to be President-Elect Obama's strategy over the next four years. Compromise implies give and take, everyone getting less than what they wanted. What we'll see instead, I suspect, is a strategy of addition, not subtraction. The unions and their allies will get programs they like. And the reformers will get programs they like. And Obama will try like the dickens to avoid the contentious issues that truly divide them.

Consider today's press conference (here's the transcript ). The President-Elect surely pleased reformers with his mention of charter schools and his enthusiasm for closing down failing schools. But he also please the teachers unions with his call to hold "governments" accountable and his praise for Chicago's work boosting the number of Nationally Board-Certified teachers.

What he didn't do was mention the No Child Left Behind...

We've already weighed in on what president-Elect Obama's selection of Arne Duncan as the next U.S. Secretary of Education may mean for education policy. But it has another meaning to those of us at Flypaper: the end of our pick-the-next-education-secretary daily tracking poll. Yes, I think I'm going to cry.

Our six-week-long experiment proved successful, as Arne Duncan led his competitors from the very first day and never looked back. (Though, to be fair, it was quite a contest the first week, when Jim Hunt and Colin Powell were still in the running. But once they took themselves out of contention, Duncan dunked the rest of the field.)

So which of our Washington Insiders got it right from the very start? It sure wasn't me; I didn't get on board until a few weeks ago, when my first two picks (Hunt and Bill Richardson) decided they had other plans. Nope, the insider's insider was Bethany Little, Vice President for Policy and Federal Advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Way back on November 10th??she gave Duncan a 70 percent chance of becoming secretary, and she never lost...

1. 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.

2. The era of gubernatorial leadership in education is officially over. It feels like a long time since we had a former governor as education secretary. Lamar Alexander and Richard Riley epitomized the role of the states as leaders in education reform. But now, with Arne Duncan replicating Rod Paige's ascension, the mantle has passed to the big cities.

3. Unfortunately, Duncan doesn't know, from personal experience, what good state policy looks like. Illinois is, for the most part, a big mess on the policy front, with its vague, low standards, lackluster accountability system, and tiny charter school movement. Here's hoping that Duncan...

Sometimes the conventional wisdom is right; President-Elect Barack Obama has selected Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan as his secretary of education.?? Here's what our president, Chester E. Finn, Jr., has to say about it:

"Arne Duncan is a terrific pick, and not just because he's close to the President-elect and speaks Chicago-ese. He's a proven and committed and inventive education reformer, not tethered to the public-school establishment and its infinite interest groups, nor bedazzled by blandishments and commands from Washington. He's earned his spurs in a huge and challenging school district, is a force for positive change nationally, has navigated Chicago politics, has stood up to Margaret Spellings, and manages, with all that, to be a thoughtful, affable and likeable guy. If he's also allowed to pick his own team, education (and the Education Department) will be in good hands during a very challenging time. (If he's undercut by goofuses, ed school ideologues and union goons forced upon him by the Office of Presidential Personnel, however, he'll have to waste far too much time on internal battles as the fledgling Obama administration figures out which side of the Great Democratic Education Schism it is really on.)"

We'll have...

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