Saturday, January 30, 2010

CLASS WARRIOR: Profile of Arne Duncan

Carlo Rotella, The New Yorker, February 1, 2010, p. 24


     "How you read Duncan's record (in Chicago) depends to some extent on what you think of his approach to reform. His signature move as C.E,O. was the turnaround: shutting down a school that has a chronic record of poor performance and reopening it with an entirely new staff.  (NY City Schools chancellor) Joel Klein told me, 'Closing a school is worse than a root canal. You're disrupting people's lives,' and it makes a superintendent very unpopular."

ABSTRACT: PROFILE of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. President Obama has allotted Duncan more than seventy billion dollars in federal economic-stimulus funds to hand out to the states—more money “by a factor of a lot,” as Duncan puts it, than any Secretary of Education has had before him. The stimulus money and the close relationship Duncan, who was the C.E.O. of the Chicago Public Schools before coming to Washington with Obama, has to the President give him extraordinary leverage.

Duncan has the potential to be a uniquely influential Secretary of Education. Any state that wants its full share of stimulus money needs to give the Department of Education what are known as the “four assurances”: progress in raising standards; in recruiting and retaining effective teachers; in tracking students’ and teachers’ performance; and in turning around failing schools.

Duncan has played basketball with Barack Obama for nearly two decades, and first met him through Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s older brother, who now coaches Oregon State University’s men’s basketball team.

In the fight over education in America today, there are, roughly speaking, two major camps: free-market reformers, who believe that competition, choice, and incentives must have greater play in education; and liberal traditionalists who rally around teachers’ unions and education schools. Obama’s choice of Duncan was widely received as a compromise. His appointment was a loss for the unions.

Republicans approve of Duncan’s commitment to market-based reforms. Duncan must contend with critics on the right who don’t accept the federal government’s active role in education, and ones on the left who see him as a neoliberal enforcer, exploiting Obama’s Democratic bona fides to impose the free-market reform agenda on the unions.

Tells about Duncan’s childhood on the South Side of Chicago and the after-school program his mother ran and continues to run in North Kenwood-Oakland. After graduating from Harvard, Duncan played professional basketball in Australia before returning to Chicago. Describes Duncan’s career in Chicago, leading up to him being named C.E.O. of the Chicago Public Schools in 2001. Writer discusses Duncan’s tenure as C.E.O. and interviews several critics of his policies. Tells about the rules by which the stimulus finds will be awarded to states and considers the legacy of No Child Left Behind. Many people who voted for Obama are finding out that on education, as on other issues, he is more of a centrist than they ever imagined.



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