Most Laud Obama's Choice for Education Post: Arne Duncan's Supporters Praise His Inner-City Reforms, While Others Decry His Lack of Experience on Higher Education Issues

By Branch-Brioso, Karen; Dervarics, Charles | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, January 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

Most Laud Obama's Choice for Education Post: Arne Duncan's Supporters Praise His Inner-City Reforms, While Others Decry His Lack of Experience on Higher Education Issues


Branch-Brioso, Karen, Dervarics, Charles, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Education secretary-designate Arne Duncan is drawing praise for his ability to bridge gaps between competing K-12 factions, though his lack of experience in public higher education may require some on-the-job training, analysts say.

President-elect Obama selected Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, to take over the U.S. Education Department. In choosing Duncan, the president-elect is bringing in an inner-city chief who has dosed low-performing schools and championed merit pay, winning kudos from reform-minded researchers. But teacher unions also praised the choice, noting Duncan's support for major increases in federal investments.

"This could be the beginning of a promising new period for public education in this country," said Dennis Van Roekel, National Education Association president. The union leader praised Duncan for telling Congress that the No Child Left Behind Act needs a doubling of federal funds within five years. NCLB is underfunded by $71 billion, the union says.

However, the Network of Teacher Activist Groups, a coalition of grassroots organizations, drew 4,000 signatures on an online petition opposing Duncan for promoting "privatized, corporatized and anti-democratic schools."

Even Duncan's ardent supporters say he likely will face a learning curve on federal higher education programs.

"His biggest challenge is going to be student financial aid," said Cynthia Brown, director of education policy at the Center for American Progress. Duncan, however, should be up to the task, she said. "I think he'll be very good. He's very focused on disadvantaged students."

For the past seven years, Duncan, 44, has led the Chicago system, the third largest in the nation as well as significantly diverse: 46.5 percent of its students are Black; 39 percent are Latino. Duncan was himself educated in private schools: the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and as a magna cum laude graduate in sociology from Harvard University in 1987.

Obama called Duncan--his longtime friend and basketball buddy--a tough, unblinking reformer who devoted his career to improving public schools. …

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