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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Secretary of Education

The Chronicle of Higher Ed reported President-Elect Obama's pick for Education as neutral at best for higher ed. Critics cited in the piece I post below call the nominee, Arne Duncan, a kind of corporate choice. It is true that higher ed's managers are pretty much out of ideas, and cling to myths I've described elsewhere. Here's the not-so-encouraging report, pasted below.

Optimism about the Obama science picks runs much higher. Many folks are missing the crucial point that you can't have a boom in basic scientific research without a boom in higher education support. The latter is nowhere in the cards. I'll say more about this soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama to Pick Arne Duncan, Leader of Chicago's Public Schools, as Education Secretary


President-elect Barack Obama will pick Arne Duncan, a longtime friend who leads Chicago’s public-school system, as his education secretary, Democratic party sources said.

Mr. Obama’s choice of Mr. Duncan may signal the president-elect’s support for approaches to education policy pressed by advocates of deep structural change in elementary and secondary education. It is less clear what the selection might mean for higher education.

Mr. Duncan’s seven-year record as chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, a system with more than 408,000 students and an operating budget of more than $4.6-billion, has been marked by battles with teacher unions over salary structures and a record of increases in student test scores.

Mr. Duncan, however, has little policy-making experience at the federal level or in postsecondary education generally, leaving college officials still wondering what to expect from the Obama administration.

Mr. Duncan isn’t completely without higher-education experience. He serves on the Board of Overseers at Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in sociology. He also serves on the Visiting Committees for Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, according to his Chicago-school-system biography.

Indications of Approach

Other clues about Mr. Duncan's approach and authority as education secretary may lie in his being a friend, neighbor, and basketball-playing partner of the incoming president, rather than one of the political rivals being named by Mr. Obama to some other Cabinet positions. Mr. Duncan cultivated a reputation in Chicago as a leader who is willing to make unpopular decisions and carry out controversial plans.

That could suggest that Mr. Duncan would be a forceful advocate of changes Mr. Obama decides to make on higher-education policy, regardless of what at times could be ardent opposition from lawmakers on Capitol Hill or from college lobbyists.

College leaders wouldn’t have expected Mr. Obama to choose a higher-education specialist, given the federal government’s need to keep its focus on promoting improvements at the elementary and secondary level, said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.

“He obviously has some knowledge of higher education, being on the Harvard Board of Overseers,” Mr. Hartle said of Mr. Duncan. The unique nature of Harvard hopefully won’t lead Mr. Duncan to “generalize too much from that experience” in formulating higher-education policy, Mr. Hartle said.

That aside, Mr. Duncan is “a terrific choice,” given his demonstrated ability to find middle ground between competing factions, Mr. Hartle said. And a personal friendship between a president and an education secretary is good for all involved in education, he said.

“One suspects that the Oval Office door, or at least the gym, will always be open to him,” Mr. Hartle said of Mr. Duncan.

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