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Why Duncan Leads ‘Reform’ Group’s Wish List

By David J. Hoff — November 17, 2008 1 min read
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Russo and Petrilli have beat us to the punch on Democrats for Education Reform’s slate to take over the U.S. Department of Education.

Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan, their pick for secretary of education, isn’t surprising. His name surfaced as far back as June—thanks to eduwonk.

But the reason DFER is pushing for Duncan is interesting. Here’s an excerpt from the memo:

In his seven years at the head of the nation’s 3rd largest school district, Chicago Public Schools has demonstrated sustained improvements in student achievement, graduation rates, and college-going rates. Duncan has credibility with various factions in the education policy debate and would allow President Obama to avoid publicly choosing sides in that debate in his most high-profile education nomination.

Many others in contention for the job represent one side or another of the Democratic Party’s fight over education policy. (For background, here’s the story I wrote in advance of the Democratic convention.)

For example, the frequent mentions of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein as education secretary created two online petitions (one here and another here) aimed at derailing his candidacy.

Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond is polarizing from the other side. One Colorado Democrat will ask for a refund on his contribution to Obama’s campaign “if my worst fears play out and she ends up designing our federal education policy.” (Thanks to Swift & Changable for the link.) Many other Democrats who want to shake up the status quo feel the same way. Yet, Darling-Hammond supporters have created their own petition backing her candidacy for secretary.

One other candidate on DFER’s list would satisfy both sets of Democrats. That’s North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley. Sources tell me he’s placated both sides of the debate by backing early-childhood education while standing firm on accountability. Other consensus candidates could be Gen. Colin Powell and former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt. Both have hinted that they’re not in the running. But maybe either could be talked into it.

As for right now, the man who will make the choice isn’t talking. In his interview with “60 Minutes” last night, President-elect Barack Obama wouldn’t commit to a timeline. “Soon,” Obama said when asked when he’d start announcing Cabinet nominees. When pressed, he wouldn’t budge.

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