Mr. Duncan is the son of educators - his father is a college professor and his mother ran a school for African-American youth - although he himself was never a teacher. He attended Harvard where his thesis was "Values, aspirations and opportunities of the Urban Underclass". (I'll see if I can find it and see what he thinks.) He himself aspired to play professional basketball (and thus Obama continues to round out the White House basketball team with the count now at 4 including Obama). He did play professionally in Australia where he met his wife. They have two children.
In 1992 he was tapped as director of the Ariel Elementary Initiative in Chicago's tough South Side. In 2006, the City Club of Chicago named Duncan Citizen of the Year. In 1998, he was selected as Deputy Chief of Staff for then-superintendent Paul Vallas (who is now running New Orleans public schools and is quite the charter, alternative and magnet advocate). Mayor Richard Daley selected him as superintendent of Chicago Public Schools in 2001. He helped draft Mr. Obama's education platform during Obama's presidential campaign.
This story appeared in the NY Times. From the story:
"In June, rival nationwide groups of educators circulated competing educational manifestos, with one group espousing a get-tough policy based on pushing teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement, and another arguing that schools alone could not close the racial achievement gap and urging new investments in school-based health clinics and other social programs to help poor students learn.
Mr. Duncan was the only big-city superintendent to sign both manifestos.
He argued that the nation’s schools needed to be held accountable for student progress, but also needed major new investments, new talent and new teacher-training efforts.In straddling the two camps, Mr. Duncan seemed to reflect Mr. Obama’s own impatience with what he has called “tired educational debates.”
In his last major educational speech of the campaign, Mr. Obama said: “It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There’s partisanship and there’s bickering, but no understanding that both sides have good ideas.”
I do agree with Mr. Obama on the circular nature of education discussion in this country. I would go farther and say that, based on the comments of many citizens, particularly in the online versions of the local newspapers, that there is this belief that teachers are either saints or lazy, greedy people who will cover for poor teachers to keep their own benefits. Neither statement is accurate, of course, but the swing between them is astonishing.
Mr. Duncan will have his hands full with decisions on NCLB snapping at his heels. The direction it goes will likely determine the direction and emphasis for education in the U.S. But, it seems that both Mr. Duncan and Mr. Obama share similar outllooks in other areas. From a Chicago Tribune editorial of December 19, 2008:
"One reason for Duncan's selection, highlighted by Mr. Obama, is his support for charter public schools. These charter schools are tuition free and open to all students, regardless of income, test scores, or background. Both Mr. Duncan and the president-elect have worked to ensure that charter schools are a part of the mix in improving our public education system. As a state senator, Obama helped pass a law to double the number of charter public schools in Chicago; and as a United States Senator, Obama advocated for the opening of Chicago's Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men--the country's first charter public high school for boys. He has also proposed doubling federal support for such charters across the nation."
From an article in the Huffington Post:
"In an Obama administration, Duncan just might prove to be a Secretary who can bridge the gap between the efficiency hawks and the broader/bolder reform advocates whom the hawks have attacked as status quo protectors. If he can, he could help facilitate the next generation of major federal education reforms."
"Duncan ought to push for changes to let schools and districts be judged on year-to-year improvement, especially among kids with the lowest performance. (The Dept. of Education has already launched a pilot program on this.) "
I am personally not for charters. In concept, as with assessment tests, I don't have a problem. But the evidence on charters is wildly mixed and you come out with them doing no better, overall, than public schools. But that doesn't mean that we can't learn from their successes and possibly apply that. I would have to see what Mr. Duncan and President-elect Obama say they are proposing before I could buy into it on charters.
But the Chicago Tribune editorial sees good things based on Illinois' experience:
"According to CPS' own 2006-07 report, charter schools and campuses outperformed their relative neighborhood schools on 83.9 percent of the relative student performance measures. A similar study published in May, conducted by independent experts at RAND and Mathematica Policy Research, determined that students in Chicago's public charter schools are making gains at greater rates than at traditional public schools."
They also say:
"The success of charters is attributable to their greater flexibility and innovation in the operation of schools, direct accountability for educational results, and more opportunity for parental involvement."
I think that's a laudable goal for ALL schools. I worry about the first point because it goes back to the old "principals as CEOs" which we have tried here in SPS and it hasn't worked. Maybe I can research what "direct accountability for educational results" means in Illinois for its charter schools.
Indeed, Mr. Obama said this( also in the Huffington Post):
"Finally, the basketball buddies also need to deliver on a key Obama campaign promise -- reiterated in his remarks introducing Duncan. In addition, to holding teachers and schools accountable for improving student achievement, Obama asserted that we must hold the government accountable too ("even me" he said on the trail)."
Really? And how do we hold government accountable for individual acts in different areas? If Obama does pull the economy together but is lackluster in education, would we vote him out? Sigh. It is so easy to use words like "transparent", "accountable", and "achievement" without defining them or their measurement.
But I can only see better things ahead for public education in this country given Mr. Duncan's support of pre-school education and a pragmatism that will carry him far in the many groups clamoring for his ear.