There is less than one hundred days remaining before Americans go to the polls to cast their votes for the next President of the United States. With the election imminent, some are now wondering whether an Obama re-election will mean a new start with changes in the makeup of his Cabinet. In particular, will President Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, remain in his post past 2013?
The relationship between Obama and Duncan goes back a long way. The two men became friends during their time working together in Chicago and Illinois politics. And it is hard to argue that Duncan is not well-qualified for the post; between 2001 and 2008, before he was appointed to his current position, he served as the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools.
What made the choice initially popular is the general impression of Duncan as level-headed realist not beholden to any particular ideology. He was a good choice to head up the Department of Education at a time when the calls for school reform were getting louder. Nor could anyone doubt his reformer bona fides: as the head of CPS, he aggressively worked to close down failing schools and replace them with charters. His efforts earned him respect, but also great enmity from groups like the teachers unions.
At the Department of Education, his best known initiative has been the $4 billion “Race To The Top.” That initiative includes states receiving federal dollars for expanding charter schools and partly reviewing teachers on how well students perform on standardized tests. He has also been an advocate for reforming “No Child Left Behind.”
The National Education Association has been a strong critic, criticizing the inclusion of charter schools in “Race To The Top.” They gave the initiative a “no confidence” vote.
Another prominent critic is Mark D. Naison, a professor of African American Studies and History at New York’s Fordham University. Naison is the owner and operator of a website called “Dump Duncan,” and he believes that allowing the administration’s education policy to be guided by Duncan puts it on the wrong path to success. Naison even suggests a perfect person to replace Duncan: the woman who was part of Obama’s transition team and who headed up his education policy group, Linda Darling Hammond.
“If President Obama wants to revive the morale of teachers and end the test mania taking hold in the nation’s schools, he should replace Duncan with a lifetime educator like Stanford’s Linda Darling Hammond and bring teachers and principals into the conversation on how to improve the nation’s schools,” Naison said.
But Duncan has quite a few supporters who laud him for his skills in forging compromises between Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Skip Rutherford, the dean of the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Arkansas, especially praises the efforts he’s made towards ensuring the affordability and greater accessibility of higher education via initiatives like the expansion of the Pell Grant program and providing resources for students struggling with their education debt.