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Letter-Writing Campaign on Education Department Appointments

By Alyson Klein — January 14, 2009 1 min read

Apparently there is a letter writing campaign underway to express concerns to the transition team and members of Congress about Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach for America, Jon Schnur, co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools, and Andrew Rotherham, co-director of Education Sector as potential choices for top jobs at the Department.

This was written by Sharon Robinson, the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, to education lobbyists and others and passed to me by a source (not Robinson):

It has come to our attention that Education Secretary Designee Arne Duncan has proposed a leadership team for ED that includes Wendy Kopp, Jonathan Schnur, and Andy Rotherham. I do not know the exact position in each instance, but we can safely assume positions such as deputy, under-secretary, and chief-of-staff are strong probabilities. Significantly, Linda Darling-Hammond, who has directed the education policy team for the Transition, is not on Duncan’s list for any position in the Administration. It is imperative that we act quickly to let the Transition Team know that Wendy, Jonathan, and Andy are unacceptable for these roles. They have evidenced a constant and intense disregard for working with the organized education community, and there is no reason to expect them to behave differently as agents of the Department of Education. In the case of Wendy and Jonathan, their appointments would signal expansion for organizations that promote the revolving door of under-qualified teachers as the best answer for poor children. The proposed team, if appointed, would be a grave disappointment for those of us who are hoping to change the education system in the interest of students. Fast-track teachers, scripted instruction, and lots of testing is not an adequate response for low-income students. That is what Kopp and Rotherham are promoting. This is not just a time to simply offer support for Linda Darling-Hammond. This is a moment when we need to let the Transition Team know that the circulated names of Kopp, Schnur, and Rotherham are not acceptable.

Does the letter writing campaign mean that Kopp, Rotherham, and Schnur really are being considered for top jobs for the Department? Not neccessarily, but it’s clear that some folks are trying to head off the potential appointments at the pass. The letter urges recipients to contact the transition team and members of Congress to express their discontent.

This shows that folks in the education world are still trying to figure out where President-elect Obama stands. His rhetoric on education on the campaign trail straddled the line between the two camps within the Democratic party, which include civil rights groups and some urban school superintendents on one hand, and members of some education organizations on the other. Duncan was widely viewed as a compromise choice for Education Secretary.

It looks like folks are really looking to these sub cabinet positions to try to figure out where the incoming Obama administration is going to take education policy.

Update: Michael J. Petrilli, a vice-president at the Fordham Institute, told me in an e-mail that he’s skeptical that Kopp, Schnur, and Rotherham will all get top positions, for a variety of reasons:

“I heard that rumor too,” he wrote. “I’d love to believe it but I’m skeptical. Partly because a clean sweep of reformers is unlikely. Partly because none of them have higher ed experience. Partly because [none] of them are seen as inside-the-department managers, and you need at least one of those.”

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