Special Report
School & District Management

Deputy Secretary Pick Brings Business Background

By Alyson Klein — May 11, 2009 2 min read

In naming Tony Miller to fill the No. 2 slot at the U.S. Department of Education, President Barack Obama has turned to a manager with extensive business experience as the department tackles the challenge of overseeing some $100 billion in economic-stimulus aid to education.

Mr. Miller, whose nomination as deputy secretary of education was announced April 29, has been at the department since the beginning of the new administration, serving as an informal adviser to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Tony Miller, the nominee for the department’s No. 2 slot has been an adviser on stimulus aid.

In that capacity, he has been a central player in overseeing new education money allocated to the department under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Obama signed into law in February.

Mr. Miller has spent his career “realizing opportunities for growth, operating efficiencies, and innovation,” according to a White House statement announcing his selection. The nomination is subject to confirmation by Congress.

Most recently, Mr. Miller served as a director of Silver Lake, a leading private investment firm, with offices in Menlo Park, Calif. and New York City, with more than $15 billion in capital. And he spent 10 years with McKinsey & Co., where he was a partner specializing in performance improvement, cost cutting, and company restructuring.

Mr. Miller has also worked with the 700,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District, developing student-achievement goals and aligning budgets and operating plans, as well as creating processes for monitoring districtwide performance. He performed similar work for the 11,565-student Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, also in California.

He serves as an ex officio member of the board budget and finance committee for the Los Angeles district.

Running Efficiently

The selection of Mr. Miller says less about the administration’s education policy and reform agenda than about the desire to put a strong manager in the department’s second-highest position, according to Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who has tracked the department’s personnel moves.

“You need someone to keep the trains running on time,” said Mr. Petrilli, who served as a political appointee in the department during President George W. Bush’s first term.

He added that the choice means “the real power center on policy will be someplace else,” such as Carmel Martin, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, or the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, who has yet to be named.

Education advocates gave President Obama and Secretary Duncan high marks for choosing Mr. Miller.

“With the added responsibilities that come with all this stimulus funding, we’re pleased to see the secretary bring in someone to ensure that the department engine doesn’t just run, but that it runs efficiently,” said Amy Wilkins, the vice-president for government affairs and communications for the Education Trust, a Washington-based advocacy organization for low-income and minority students.

Mary Kusler, the assistant director for policy and advocacy at the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington, Va., said she has “really enjoyed working with [Mr. Miller] so far. He is open and engaging and willing to talk about issues.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2009 edition of Education Week as Deputy Secretary Pick Brings Business Background

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