Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Looking back on Obama's pick

In December, 2008 President-elect Obama named Arne Duncan to be his new secretary of education.  Obama's choice of Duncan over the much more highly qualified Linda Darling-Hammond should have been a tip-off as to what would transpire the next two-and-a-half years.

At the time, many of us were still optimistic in the wake of Obama's historic election victory. Based on his campaign promises, educators were anticipating an end to Bush-ism and to nearly a decade of testing madness under NCLB. Those looking at the glass as half-full (myself included) were cautiously hopeful. After all, Obama had also rejected hard-core anti-teachert extremists Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee for the job. Having worked with and battled against Duncan's regime in Chicago, I expressed hope that, once out from under the thumb of Mayor Daley and the Chicago machine, Duncan might be able to represent a more progressive and humane ed politics than the previous regime. But this was not to be.

This morning, while reading a Huffington piece by Joy Resmovitz, "Will Arne Duncan's Education Reforms Get Left Behind?" I linked to a Dec. 2008 assessment of the Duncan appointment in the Economist,: "B+ for the new boy: Barack Obama’s education secretary is a diplomatic reformer."
Chester Finn of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute calls Mr Duncan “a terrific pick”, and Margaret Spellings, George Bush’s education secretary, calls him “a kindred spirit”. But Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, declared herself “pleased” by the choice. The worry is that the effort to reach consensus may hinder bold change. But at least Mr Duncan may restore the spirit of co-operation that helped pass NCLB in 2001. Mr Obama, in his announcement, criticised advocates who fail to realise that “both sides have good ideas and good intentions”. The president-elect is a master at charting the middle road. Time will tell whether that path leads to meaningful reform or to messy drift.
Well, time certainly has told. There were no "good intentions." There was no "spirit of cooperation" and NCLB was dead in the water (thank goodness). Duncan's attempt to coalesce with Newt Gingrich and the  neocons fell flat on its face. Conciliation soon turned into outright adoption of the corporate reform agenda and the plight of teachers and their collective bargaining rights have have gotten worse than ever.

Now NCLB has essentially been re-branded as Race To The Top and the Dept. of Education has lost whatever juice it had in trying to re-authorize a national education law. Duncan's attempt to grab power with his waiver initiative is bound to fall on its face.

With elections on the horizon, Obama would do well to clean house at the DOE and hope for a fresh start.

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