I was excited to hear Tuesday that President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education. Obama’s position on education was one of the key areas where Obama differentiated himself from his opponents during the election and I believe this is a great step forward in his fulfillment of his commitments to bring change to our country. Effective leadership has been sorely missing from the Secretary of Education position and I believe Arne Duncan brings a strength of leadership to that office. Much has been written suggesting that this cabinet appointment represents a test of how forward thinking Obama is about how to improve education. NY Time columnist, David Brooks recently wrote, “Is Barack Obama really a force for change, or is he just a traditional Democrat with a patina of postpartisan rhetoric?” A ‘patina of postpartisan’ rhetoric Arne Duncan is not. Obama seems to have scored another “slam dunk” here given the accomplishments of Arne Duncan in such a short time. In some ways, Duncan’s metoric rise is similar to Obama’s. In his announcement, Obama said of Duncan “In just seven years [as Superintendent of Chicago], [Duncan has] boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago from 38 percent of students meeting the standards to 67 percent. The dropout rate has gone down every year he’s been in charge.” In Arne Duncan Obama gets an individual who is very bright, believes that all students can learn, has strong leadership skills, and is a problem solver who thinks out of the educational box. Arne Duncan is considered a reformer going beyond curriculum (what is taught) and instruction (how it is taught) to changing the way schools are structured and, in fact, how they function. He has a record of accomplishing sustainable change (reform) with great skill and political prowess.
Duncan supports teacher and student performance-based pay initiatives. He has closed poor performing schools as a way of forcing principals and teachers to reapply for their jobs. He has started 53 charter schools. Duncan strongly supports an increased role and contribution from parents. Although some of these initiatives have angered the teacher unions, he has successfully navigated their objections.
In terms of getting things done in Washington, it certainly helps that he is a good friend of Obama’s. Both men are Harvard graduates, love basketball, have a strong bias for action, and are committed to fixing American schools by implementing what works and not what is politically expedient. We at Education.com enthusiastically support president-elect Obama’s choice of Arne Duncan as the next Secretary of Education and look forward to seeing our children benefit from the change we are confident he will lead in our nation’s schools.