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Arne Duncan Out From Under Mayor Daley's Thumb?


My colleague, Catherine Gewertz, covers Chicago Public Schools as part of EdWeek's urban beat, and has been talking to folks all day about Arne Duncan's selection as President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of education, and what it means for federal education policy. There's a bigger EdWeek story that's forthcoming. What follows is a sampling of reaction she's hearing.

Michael Klonsky, a longtime Chicago activist and the director of the Small Schools Workshop, praised Mr. Duncan's support of small schools in the city. But he also said he has been concerned that as part of the work of growing the small-school concept there, Mr. Duncan has helped fuel a trend toward using private companies to manage schools. He said he has also been troubled that Mr. Duncan and Mayor Richard M. Daley have eliminated local school councils at some schools, making it harder for parents and the public to influence and access the goings-on at their schools.

"I am hopeful that once he is out from under the thumb of Mayor Daley and the political machine here, and is working with Obama's people, who I like and respect, Duncan can be liberated to do the things that I know are in his heart as a democratic educator," said Klonsky, who has helped incubate small schools in Chicago and elsewhere. "He can be a great spokesman for urban public education, even more now on a national scene where he's not chained to the ideology of the political machine here. I don't think Arne is an ideologue. He's a pragmatist at heart and a democrat."

Julie Woestehoff, the executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, said that Mr. Duncan's temperament lends itself to his new position. But she also cautioned people to look at Chicago's success from all angles. "So much of what is happening in Chicago is around test prep," she said. "Every teacher in Chicago will say they feel their entire job is test prep. The reality has been that [school] closures have been chaotic and disruptive and have harmed children. And the replacement schools have really not proven themselves to be much different from the schools they replaced. We don't think the result is worth the uproar."

Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union has released its statement: “Since becoming CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan has grown in his awareness of the problems facing America’s public education system, especially the conditions existing in large urban settings such as Chicago. With this background, he is well positioned to assume a national role in addressing the many issues that affect the day-to-day teaching of our nation’s school children."


Is the Sec. of Education appointment the kind of Change America voted for? Arne Duncan somehow went from just an undergrad degree in sociology and being a professional basketball player in Australia to becoming 'appointed' CEO (pathetic title for a 100% public funded non-profit institution) then being 'appointed' again by Obama. The man never even was a teacher on top of it. Is this just pork or what ???

I take an optimistic view of this appointment. The education strategies of this country need leadership that has a broad perspective on learning, not a narrow one that might come from a professional educator. I don't mean that negatively. 21st century education and learning needs to involved the business community, colleges, traditional and non traditional schools, the non profit sector, and the virtual world. Perhaps someone with a sports background can get people to play together more effectively, and can see the whole field, not just individual players.

Here is what the National Association for Gifted Children had to say about Duncan:

One of the biggest problems facing our education system today is the lack of focus and attention on gifted ed. This is especially problematic for academically talented students in disadvantaged communities, where their needs are either not being recognized or are not being met. Gifted students deserve to be challenged and to be able to fulfill their potential.

We are thrilled that Arne Duncan has been chosen to be the next Secretary of Education. Duncan knows how urban school systems work and he has a history of bringing change to education.

We believe that Duncan will work towards positive reforms to all our students.

I couldn't agree more with the NAGC. Though I'm not in education, I'm glad to see somebody who believes in the power of corporate America to do for education what it has done for business in this country.

Being a Conservative Republican, I haven’t agreed with much that Barrack Obama has done, but his choice of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education is a great move. Arne Duncan is not only an Illinois politician, he’s a Chicago politician. In this day and age that should certainly count for something. He has presided over the Chicago education miracle over the past 7 years which in many ways was the continuation of the Paul Vallas miracle in the years before Duncan took over and like much of the Bush administration Duncan has plenty of experience with no bid government contracts thanks to his dealings with Impact and SchoolNet, Inc.

Arne Duncan has a very impressive resume. After graduating college with a degree in sociology in 1987, Duncan went to Australia to play basketball professionally. Returning to Chicago in 1992 he went to work as director of a childhood friend’s educational program on the South Side of Chicago. In 1998 he became Chicago School Chief Paul Vallas’ Deputy Chief of Staff. In 2001 he became head of the Chicago Public Schools. I don’t think you’ll find many people with that kind of depth of experience interested in a cabinet job.

In Chicago Duncan made a name for himself by closing down poorly performing schools for a year to turn them around by replacing the faculty and many of the students. In the case of Orr High School he did this twice. As most poor schools are African-American, Arne Duncan has personally fired over 2,000 African-American teachers this way. This is a very impressive quality–the ability to see that the poor performing schools are in African-American neighborhoods and the foresight to take the moves necessary to improve them. This strategy hasn’t always worked, but in neighborhoods that have simultaneously undergone gentrification, the results are quite impressive.

Duncan is part of a new breed of school administrator whose minds have not been poisoned by working in the classroom. Instead they believe that the needs of children can best be met by the free market. In his time in Chicago, Duncan has frequently reached out to business leaders to do for the schools what they have already done for corporate America. The cornerstone of the Chicago Education Miracle is Renaissance 2010–A program designed to replace public schools with charters. The program seems poised to reach its pinnacle next year with the opening of The Transportation Academy of Chicago which will have the mission statement of training the city’s future bus drivers.

I believe that the Charter School System is our best hope for the future of education and charter schools couldn’t have a better friend than Arne Duncan. Through charter schools parents who are concerned with their child’s education and have a little political pull can get a public education at a newer school without the dangerous element that often can be found in the public schools. If anybody can export the Chicago Education Miracle to the rest of the country its Arne Duncan.


Obama's Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling http://www.truthout.org/121708R
This is the best and most rigorous op-ed piece I have read about Arne Duncan and The Chicago Public Schools.

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