Obama’s Education Pick is Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools superintendent known for taking tough steps to improve schools while maintaining respectful relations with teachers and their unions, is President-elect Barack Obama’s choice as secretary of education, Democratic officials said Monday.

Mr. Duncan, a 44-year-old Harvard graduate, has raised achievement in the nation’s third-largest school district and often faced the ticklish challenge of shuttering failing schools and replacing ineffective teachers, usually with improved results.

He represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.

In June, rival nationwide groups of educators circulated competing educational manifestos, with one group espousing a get-tough policy based on pushing teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement, and another arguing that schools alone could not close the racial achievement gap and urging new investments in school-based health clinics and other social programs to help poor students learn.

Mr. Duncan was the only big-city superintendent to sign both manifestos.

He argued that the nation’s schools needed to be held accountable for student progress, but also needed major new investments, new talent and new teacher-training efforts.

In straddling the two camps, Mr. Duncan seemed to reflect Mr. Obama’s own impatience with what he has called “tired educational debates.”

In his last major educational speech of the campaign, Mr. Obama said: “It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There’s partisanship and there’s bickering, but no understanding that both sides have good ideas.”

The rival educational camps swamped the Obama transition in recent weeks with recommendations for the post. The National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union, pressed for several current and former governors who had made schools a priority in their states.

Many former members of Teach for America, the program that sends elite-college graduates to teach in low-income schools, weighed in on behalf of Joel I. Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, and Michelle Rhee, the Washington schools chancellor, both of whom have clashed with the teachers’ unions.

“Obama found the sweet spot with Arne Duncan,” said Susan Traiman, director of educational policy at the Business Roundtable. “Both camps will be O.K. with the pick!”

Mr. Duncan’s acquaintance with Mr. Obama began on the basketball court nearly two decades ago but has flowered since he became the chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools in 2001, and Mr. Obama has used him as a frequent sounding board in discussions of education policy.

The two men have visited a number of Chicago schools together. In October 2005, they visited the Dodge Renaissance Academy, a once-failing elementary school that Mr. Duncan closed and reopened, with a new staff, as a working public school and a teacher training academy.


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