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Obama's Choice: Secretary of Education


There has been a great deal of speculation about President-elect Obama’s choice for Secretary of Education. Obama has called for a new era of mutual responsibility in education, and it will take an extraordinary leader to rally educators and the nation at large to this task. Many names have been mentioned, but I am going to write about two with whom I am acquainted, and open up the discussion for your ideas as well.

One candidate is Dr. Pedro Noguera. I attended UC Berkeley with Dr. Noguera back in the 1980’s, and worked with him on various projects, including a campaign to get the university to withdraw its investments from businesses involved in the apartheid regime in South Africa. He emerged as a strong leader in that movement, and went on to become a professor of sociology at the university.

He became active in the Berkeley public schools, where his children were enrolled, and served on the school board. His book, Unfinished Business, took a close look at the dynamics of race and achievement at Berkeley High School. He is now an NYU education professor, and has written several books focused on closing the achievement gap, urban education and the particular challenges facing African American boys in school. He has written critically about No Child Left Behind, and spoken widely on education reform.

Another leading candidate for the post is Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond. She has been one of Obama’s primary advisors on education issues, and represented his views in a debate with a McCain representative held last month.

I first learned about Dr. Darling-Hammond’s work ten years ago, when I read her book, The Right to Learn.

In it she wrote passionately about the need for a stronger teaching profession, and provided a powerful critique of the status quo:

It has taken nearly a century to discover that, as a form of organization, bureaucracy lacks the tools to manage complex work, handle the unpredictable, or meet distinctive client needs. By its very nature, bureaucratic management is incapable of providing appropriate education for students who do not fit the mold upon which prescriptions for practice are based. As inputs, processes, and measures of outcomes are increasingly standardized, the cracks through which students can fall grow larger rather than smaller because the likelihood that each accumulated prescription is suitable for a given child grows smaller with each successive limitation upon a teachers' ability to adapt instruction to students' needs. Bureaucratic solutions to problems of practice will always fail because effective teaching is not routine, students are not passive, and questions of practice are not simple, predictable or standardized. Consequently, instructional decisions cannot be formulated on high then packaged and handed down to teachers. Nor can instructional problems be solved by inspectors who make occasional forays into the classroom to monitor performance and dispense advice without an intimate knowledge of the classroom context, the subject matter being taught, the goals of instruction, and the development of individual children.

Instead of “bureaucratic solutions,” Darling-Hammond has been a powerful proponent of a strengthened teaching profession. She actively supported the creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and created the National Board Resource Center at Stanford University, which has helped hundreds of candidates (including myself) achieve certification over the past decade. She has written extensively on how teaching and learning actually work, looking in-depth at how we can identify and promote teacher quality. She has been critical of No Child Left Behind and the emphasis on “testing rather than investing.”

An online petition has been started urging President-elect Obama to select Dr. Darling-Hammond.

From my point of view, either of these individuals would be an excellent choice, because both of them bring a powerful dedication to the needs of our students, and will be forceful advocates for school improvement. They are both, like Obama himself, articulate and passionate in their beliefs, and could offer us the fresh start we need.

Update: Today's San Francisco Chronicle says

It's been a busy week for Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor who heads back to Washington, D.C., on Sunday to preside over the start of what she hopes will be a new - and better funded - era for public schools.

Darling-Hammond, a teacher-friendly educator, has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to head his transition team on education policy.

Whom do you think President-elect Obama should choose for this job? Why?


Neither of the aformentioned would be good. Joel Klein, John Schnur, or Arnie Duncan. If Michele Rhee weren't a little bit busy now destroying the teacher union in DC (Go Michele!), she would be perfect.

I agree. Michele Rhee is the one.

I am currently a candidate for the National Boards and I strongly believe in the process. It has been very worthwhile for me and I already see the difference it is making for my teaching. I believe that Dr. Darling-Hammond would be an excellent choice because she sees the benefits of suppoting and improving the teaching profession.

I have read several of Dr. Noguera's books and I have attended two workshops for school leaders on school improvement. He would be a fabulous choice. He has a wealth of academic knowledge, but understands the practical concerns in public education. Hopefully, there would be some chance of providing equity for all children in the US with his leadership.

I feel the best choice will be someone who truly wants to reform education not just research it. That person is someone who realizes that NCLB has not done its job. I'm not sure either one of the above mentioned will do the job justice. But I know for sure that whomever receives the job should be a strong supporter of paying those teachers who take the initiative to go through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards process to better their teaching skills and abilities. It made a difference for me as an elementary school teacher.

It doesn't seem that either can be off the mark by too much. As a NBCT, I'm amazed at the stunningly slow progress that we make in education. We become a rallying cry everytime election year rolls around, but then we are forgotten. The only exception is when unrealistic expectations are being legislated to us. By the time we adjust to the "swing" the election cycle has changed again, and we start a new game of catching up. As John Stewart would say, we become the five-year-olds chasing the soccer ball. Both candidates sound as though they understand a little place I like to call the planet earth. I think it can only get better, so let's get on with it!

Neither one would be the best for the position. I agree that Michelle Rhee is a union buster and I'm not too happy with Darling-Hammond's position on tenure as well. There are many things wrong with our profession, union busting will not solve things.

The Secretary of Education represents the administration on a broad swath of policy and initiatives--so that representative should be someone with equally broad credentials and no specific axe to grind. Why would any thoughtful president choose a union-buster, a known voucher advocate or someone whose life work has been devoted to politically manipulating test data?

In order for a Secretary to be effective, they need to have open communication channels to the people who are doing the actual work. In education, this means having good relationships with the K-12 and higher ed communities and an ability to build policy bridges to effect reform with those who will be carrying out those reforms.

Since I believe Obama's primary goals in education center on closing the equity and achievement gaps, he should look for leaders with considerable experience in effective ways to do just that. Either Noguera or Darling-Hammond would fit that bill. Neither is a "one-issue" candidate and both have extensive backgrounds--both as scholars and as advocates--in leveraging significant change in the most needy schools.

We can't rebuild the economy if a third of the workforce now in the pipeline is not meeting global standards. We need someone whose #1 priority is students at all levels, not going after perceived enemies.

I would definitely support Dr. Darling-Hammond for Secretary of Education. While urban education and the achievement gap are critical issues for our country, I feel that Dr. Darling-Hammond would be able to address those issues as well as others. I feel her view would be less narrow and more reaching than Dr. Noguera.

No child left behind is not working because teachers are teaching to the test and that makes it a joke. We need more money for education so teachers have smaller class sizes. Then good teachers have more time for students in the classroom that are behind. Putting them in interventions groups labels them and their own classroom teacher giving them a little guidance where necessary to catch up is far more powerful and less demoralizing.
Put someone to head education that is not far removed from the classroom.

I appreciate both candidates you’ve mentioned especially because of their continual insistence that students not be left out of a high quality public education. We need strong leadership to emphasize the priority of education and extend the best of it to each and every student.
As educators, part of our mission is to continually renew our profession. One way is to focus on the teaching abilities of children and youth; to see and systematically improve the ways K-12 students help each other learn. Classroom teachers have a strong role to play in this process: giving ALL students daily practice in fulfilling their potential as teachers; guiding some students to the education profession who are most effective, knowledgeable and motivated to help others learn. With those in higher ed and K-12 districts working together on this issue, we are reforming education from the inside.

Whoever is selected will need to fix math education. The 20 year experiment of constructivist math has been an abject failure. Evidence is everywhere - from the US mid-20s ranking worldwide in TIMSS, to exploding numbers of H-1B applications, to NASA not being able to hire enough engineers and scientists - all because not enough math competent students are available. The new education secretary must embrace the National Mathematics Advisory Panel "Foundations for Success" report and ensure the report recommendations are implemented nationwide. Reform math must be reformed.

Along with Dr. Pedro Noguera and Dr. Darling-Hammond as possible Secretary of Education in President Obama's administration, Dr. Rudy Crew, former Superintendent in Miami, Florida, would also be an excellent candidate for the position. Dr. Crew is well acccomplished in urban education and has a research-based understanding of professional preparation of educators at college/university level. He would be supported strongly for the position throughout the eduational community. He is held in the highest regard

I do think that either of the two would be good as Secretary of Education, but I would prefer Reg Weaver for the job. He has executive experience in leading a large organization, puts the kids' interest before all else, and has been a voice for all education professionals.

Linda Darling-Hammond would be the worst possible choice for the next Secretary of Education. She is noted for her radically romantic, anti-empirical solutions for the present troubles in public education. The best possible Secretary would be Michelle Rhee, the present Superintendent of the Washington, D.C. schools.

I know the work of both of these people and do agree both would be good. I lean toward Linda Darling Hammond. Her extensive work while at Teachers' College and now at Stanford has focused critical attention on improving instructional practice and the system surrounding it.

What happens in the classroom on a daily basis is at the heart of education.
The Secretary of Education should have a working knowledge of the classroom and of instruction and an understanding of what a superior teaching workforce looks like. It sounds as though Linda Darling-Hammond fits the bill.

My vote would be for former NC governor Jim Hunt. Between his two 8-year terms he served as the head of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and saw the process off to a successful launch. He did so much for education in NC during his terms. He's a politician who knows how to get it done who is married to a teacher. He comes from a family of teachers. Unfortunately, the TV reported this morning that he has stated he is not interested.

How about someone with classroom experience - let's say a TEACHER. Someone who is actually in the trenches and working with students. How about a TEACHER. It should be a teacher that is working in a low socio-economic area, who is dealing with ELLs, who has been dealing with Reading First and No Child Left Behind requirements, who is dealing with administrators who have forgotten what it is like in the classroom, who understands that children are individuals not some "thing" that must be put together and
"sold" for a profit, who understands that schools are here to help everyone become a successful citizen of the United States (be that a homemaker, college graduate, factory worker, mechanic, etc.).

We have forgotten what schools are for. They are not here to make everyone a college graduate. Schools are here to make sure that our democratic society lives on.

I don't think Joel Klein or Michelle Rhee would be good choices. Mr. Klein thinks a business model is appropriate for schools (and we've all seen how well the business model has worked out for businesses!). While it's true that Ms. Rhee is an outside-the-box thinker, I think she is too rigid and combative for the job. Her anti-National Board stance makes no sense to me. My vote is for Terry Dozier, a former Teacher-of-the Year who was Teacher-in-Residence at the Department of Education. She knows teaching and she knows policy. A winning combination.

I would vote for Dr. Pedro Noguera. He would bring a much needed set of skills and extensive knowledge and experience.
Moreover, he udnerstands the challenge and urgency of closing the achievement gap in our school districts.

I share the concerns of those who feel great researchers of education may not necessarily make successful administrators of the DOE.

On the other hand, overzealous, but misinformed administrators such as Klein, Rhee, or Vallas are the educational equivalents of assault weapons pointed at the wrong target. If union busting was the key to improving the quality of education for our children, then student achievement in states like mine--where union membership is voluntary, collective bargaining is illegal, and tenure is nonexistent--would be significantly ahead of those in unionized states/districts. In fact, the opposite is true.

I don't have a specific name to throw into the mix, but rather a set of criteria that includes a real desire to listen to parents, students, and teachers.

As a classroom teacher, I would love to see a Secretary of Education that has actually been in the classroom (as a teacher) and has extensive experience working with policy, teacher education programs, and teachers. I think both educators that Anthony mentions fit the bill. I have often cited Linda Darling-Hammond's work on new teacher retention and appreciate her passion for ensuring every child has a quality teacher. It would be nice to have a SOE that has some working knowledge about teacher quality and retention, and not only looking at test scores. I also agree with Gail that Terry Dozier would make an excellent candidate.

I see some of you are pushing for Michelle Rhee...why do you want a union buster? I don't understand..who would back up the teachers? We need a candidate that will look out for the interests of students and teachers. Not to sell out the public school system. The education system is always changing and making it harder for teachers to do their job. Teachers should be able to teach!!! I would have to agree, someone that has experiencein the classroom should be Secretary of Education.

Linda Darling-Hammond would be an excellent choice for Secretary of Education. It would be very refreshing to see someone in that position like Darling-Hammond who actually understands how students learn and has excellent ideas for best practice in instruction.


I think the head of the DOE should be someone who has practical and substantial experience in the classroom. Ms Rhee has is over zealous and lack experience in overseeing a school system far less the nations system. I do agree that education needs reform but it needs a consensus which requires all parties to come to the table. Policy alone will not solve the problem and individuals who seek to alienate an entire group from the solution is out of touch. Lets get someone who truly understands what education is.

CNN just announced our Secretary of Education is Arnie Duncan and will be introduced tomorrow.

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