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Race to Top Uber Analyst Smarick Bolts for NJ

Andy Smarick, the Fordham Fellow who perhaps knows as much about the Race to the Top competition as the folks at the U.S. Department of Education, will have to leave his wonky federal analysis, insights, and general blogginess behind when he takes on a new job as deputy education commissioner in New Jersey.

He'll work as the lone deputy under Commissioner Bret Schundler, who was a controversial pick for newly elected Republican Gov. Christopher Christie.

Smarick officially starts his new role sometime this summer, probably in early August (although if New Jersey were wise, it would tap his expertise as it puts the finishing touches on its Round 2 Race to the Top application, due June 1).

So what prompted Smarick's change from an inside-the-Beltway wonk to state government bureaucrat?

"In my lifetime there hasn't been a more exciting time to work for a state in education reform," he told me this afternoon.

Smarick, a former education department official under President George W. Bush, has cemented his role in the D.C. education wonk world with his writings on Race to the Top and turning around low-performing schools. He's been quoted in the Baltimore Sun, New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and, yes, frequently in EdWeek and on this blog.

He was never shy about criticizing the regime of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and undoubtedly annoyed some in the department when he expressed "major disappointment" at the education secretary's decision to pick 16 Race to the Top Round 1 finalists. And, in reacting to a Duncan speech at the annual meeting for charter operator KIPP, Smarick urged the KIPP officials to keep doing what they're doing, despite pleas from Duncan to get more involved in turnarounds.

Not always the contrarian, Smarick has also helped the department out in some ways, such as by assisting them in getting out the message that union buy-in isn't everything in a Race to the Top application.

Not always serious, Smarick sometimes saw his musical interests inspire his blogging, like the time he compared Uncommon Schools founder Norman Atkins to Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame. Seriously, Andy, you're giving all of this up to move to New Jersey??

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