Arne Duncan: a reformer as U.S. education secretary
Barack Obama's nomination of Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan signals a commitment to education reform as well as constructive engagement among often warring sectors of the education community. His reforms in Chicago, including controversial steps of closing poor-performing schools, yielded impressive results.
PRESIDENT-elect Barack Obama's choice for Education Secretary signals two important advances in public education: a push for continued reforms and an upcoming period of détente in the education wars.
Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan is a change agent. He has shaken up the status quo with support for charter schools, performance pay and strict accountability for struggling schools.
He has gotten results.
In just seven years, Duncan boosted elementary test scores in Chicago from 38 percent of students meeting standards to 67 percent. The dropout rate in the country's third-largest school system has gone down every year under Duncan's tenure.
A laserlike focus on academic improvement has not put him at odds with teachers and their unions. Duncan has a reputation for reaching out to teachers, according to Randi Weingarten, head of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers.
Another thing to like about Duncan is his reputation for compromise and for embracing wide-ranging reforms. Like the incoming president, Duncan is not rooted to any education ideology other than academic excellence for all. It is a nimble stance that has allowed the 44-year-old Harvard graduate to sidestep the "you're either for us or against us" traps often present in education-reform debates.
Duncan promises to lead the nation's public-education systems, from kindergarten to college, with the same boldness and innovation he has shown in Chicago.
Duncan has been unhesitant about shutting down failing schools and he supports paying educators for improved school performance. Reform-minded superintendents across the nation, including Seattle's Maria Goodloe-Johnson, would find support in this nominee.
Another thing to like about Duncan is his steadfastness. Amid angst over the No Child Left Behind Act, Duncan has remained supportive of the law's overarching principles. He was among urban school superintendents who this summer urged Congress not to back away from the law's strict accountability requirements.
During that same moment before Congress, Duncan stressed the importance of "challenging the status quo, pushing the envelope and driving change." Public education will go through some challenging times ahead and Duncan ought not forget his words.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.