I've been mulling the decision by Democrats for Education Reform to suggest Chicago superintendent Arne Duncan as their top pick for education secretary. At first it seemed like the kiss of death for Duncan. After all, I thought, wouldn't President-Elect Obama choose a consensus candidate, one that both the reformers and the union types within the Democratic Party would applaud? And if Duncan was now seen as part of the reform camp, wouldn't that disqualify him? And regardless, wouldn't reformers rather Obama pick a true believer such as Jon Schnur?

But now I see how crafty those DFERs are. They must believe that Duncan is a shoe-in for the job (largely because of his close personal relationship with Obama). So now, if he's the pick, the reformers can claim a victory. Very smart.

So yes, I'm coming around to the view that Duncan is the most likely candidate. (See Alexander, here I am, again, admitting the errors of my ways!) But it's not a sure thing because of the diversity factor. Depending on the other Cabinet choices, Obama might need to select a woman or a minority for the ed sec job. Which means that...

For better or for worse, I believe that arguments such as this one from Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), in a letter in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, will carry the day in the new, smaller, more conservative House Republican caucus:

Wow! In "??'Compassionate' Conservatism Was a Mistake" (op-ed, Nov. 7) Dick Armey fails to mention that as majority leader in 2001-2002 he was the architect of "compassionate conservatism" in the legislative branch of government.

I firmly believe that congressional Republicans laid the cornerstone of compassionate conservatism when individuals who had supported education reform sold out and passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. When faced with the choice of empowering parents, local schools, and state or federal bureaucrats, Dick Armey and our current and future minority leader John Boehner stood firmly on the side of federal bureaucrats. NCLB was the most massive shift from personal freedom to government intervention. They not only facilitated it, they engineered it.

The rest is history. Once you've sold out parents and children, voting for massive spending increases to fund NCLB, selling out freedom in other areas became very easy, almost necessary.

The disappointing thing

Laura Pohl

Shine those instruments and start practicing: high school bands across the country thinking "Yes, we can" march in Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration parade have a little more competition than usual. The Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, which collects applications, is receiving 10 applications an hour and had more than 400 as of yesterday, according to The Washington Post. This compares with the last inauguration, where 47 civilian marching bands were picked from 343 contenders. The parade application deadline has been extended to 5 p.m. Tuesday. Step in time...

Picture by RickC from Flickr
The Education Gadfly

Checker's weighing in on The Gates Foundation's new education strategy with an op-ed on While Checker lauds the emphasis on high school completion, college readiness, national standards and strengthening education data, some areas are left wanting.

Two cheers are surely deserved. It's too early to know, however, whether a third is warranted. For what was emphasized in Seattle, and in the materials released so far, is mostly an educator's (and student's) version of education reform, not a parent's, taxpayer's or policymaker's version. Indeed, the word "parent" scarcely appears, nor "choice," "charter" or "governance," nor much by way of politics, policy or finance.

Read the whole column here.

Democrats for Education Reform is circulating a document with its wish list for the transition, including suggestions for key education jobs in the Obama Administration. I read this as a guide to the positions the folks listed below would like for themselves. (And, for the most part, education reformers should be thrilled to see them get their way.)

  • White House Policy Czar: John Podesta
  • Domestic Policy Director: Jon Schnur, James Kvaal, Roberto Rodriguez, or Michele Jolin
  • OMB (position unnamed): Michael Dannenberg
  • Secretary of Education: Arne Duncan (strong preference), Wendy Kopp, Jon Schnur, Hugh Price, Alan Bersin, Mike Easley, Kathleen Sebelius, Janet Napolitano, Roy Barnes, or Bob Wise
  • Deputy Secretary/ Under Secretary: Andrew Rotherham, Russlyn Ali, James Shelton, or Ted Mitchell
  • Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education: Michael Bennet, Anthony Alvarado, Patricia Harvey, or Bart Peterson
  • Title I Director*: Zollie Stephenson or Brad Jupp
  • Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education: Kevin Carey, Barmak Nassirian, or Bob Shireman
  • Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation: Robert Gordon, Kevin Hall, Alice Johnson Cain, or Andrew Rotherham
  • Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs: Roberto Rodriguez
  • Assistant Secretary for English Language Acquisition: Peter Zamora
  • Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement: Kim Smith, Kevin Chavous,
  • ...

It looks like Jim Hunt convinced our panel that he doesn't want to move to Washington, because he's back in a distant second place behind Chicago schools superintendent (and FOBO*) Arne Duncan. But the word on the street is that this is an old-fashioned head-fake, and that Hunt and his associates are campaigning hard for the job.

Meanwhile, it looks like Joel Klein's star is falling. And notice the growing number of women and minorities making the list. Conventional wisdom is that President-Elect Obama might name white men to a few of the big cabinet jobs, which means he'll need women, African-Americans, and Latinos to balance his team's diversity.

Other folks mentioned today include Peter McWalters, Caroline Kennedy, Jon Schnur, Erskine Bowles, and Susan Castillo.

* Friend of Barack Obama

The Washington Post has a front-page story today about the Republican Governors Association meeting being held in Florida this week. Not surprisingly, the guvs are gloomy, and they are pointing fingers at their colleagues in the Administration and Capitol Hill for making a mess of the Republican brand.

But governors, get a grip. Don't expect salvation from Washington. While Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America deserved much credit for bringing the GOP back from the abyss in 1994, its arguments to devolve power to the states and limit the federal government were salable only because people could point to bold, reform-minded governors who were really shaking things up. Think John Engler on education, Tommy Thompson on welfare, and on and on.

Who are the reform governors now? Tim Pawlenty is good on pay-for-performance, and Bobby Jindal got a small voucher program through his Southern legislature. That's an OK start. But??it's not much to brag about.

What the GOP most needs are at least a handful of governors to make bold, competent moves in policy areas voters care about, including education. So who's it going to be?

Photograph of...
Guest Blogger

From Fall intern Molly Kennedy:

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the faltering economy is forcing schools to tighten their belts. The number one cost-saving step school districts have already taken? Altering thermostats. That's according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators. Other steps include hiring reductions, fewer supplies, larger class sizes, and a decrease in extracurricular activities. Read media coverage of the survey here, here and here.

Thermostat photograph from midnightcomm on Flickr...
The Education Gadfly

(Due to technical difficulties, we're giving everyone another chance to enter the name-the-next-education-secretary contest. If you already entered, please enter again).

Think you know your who's who in education policy? Well here's your chance to prove it. Don't wait! Cast your vote by 6:00 p.m. Friday and enter to win an autographed copy of Checker Finn's Troublemaker! Just email us your best guess to [email protected]. If multiple people pick the eventual nominee, books will go to the first three entrants. So vote today! Winners will be announced as soon as the nomination is made.

So reports the Associated Press. Will our Washington Insiders believe him? Diane Ravitch will be disappointed if he's serious. (So will I.)