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Arne Duncan's Love Fest

Arne Duncan, Obama's nominee for Secretary of Education, got flowers and chocolates from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee at his confirmation hearing this morning.

Well, okay, not really...but it wouldn't have surprised me.

Every senator, from liberal Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland to Sen. Tom Coburn, a small government conservative, went out of their way to say that Duncan was extremely qualified and would be a great Secretary of Education. In the hearing, they praised everything from Duncan's record in Chicago to his jump shot to his children's good behavior.

And Duncan lived up to his reputation as a compromise nominee. It seems he's mastered President-elect Obama's approach of answering questions on education policy without going too far into the weeds or tipping his hand in one direction or the other.

He endorsed merit pay, but said it needs to be done in collaboration with unions. He said he'd re-examine teacher quality and student assessment, but that he supports accountability and standards and has high expectations for all students.

The only thing he said that may have angered the NEA or the AFT is that he supports the Teacher Incentive Fund, which doles out grants to districts to create alternative pay programs. He said it was one of Secretary Spellings' greatest achievements. NEA thinks the program needs to be tweaked so that teachers and unions have more input into the plans (they did in Chicago, under Duncan).

Duncan also praised "education entrepeneurs" such as Wendy Kopp of Teach for America and Jon Schnur of New Leaders for New Schools and said that the Department needs to be willing to "challenge the status quo" if it isn't working. Some might say that's more in line with some civil rights groups and urban school superintendents than with organizations for practioners.

But you had to read between the lines to catch that...and it's tough to say yet how it will translate into policy or personnel.

Either way it looks like there's very little chance that Duncan won't sail through the confirmation process.

You can view the fireworks-free hearing here.

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