Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pondering Obama's Secretary of Education appointment

Tim Kaine of Virginia has pulled himself out of the running.
These insider columns indicate that Joel Klein is still a candidate. Given Obama's pattern of picking different voices, it is conceivable that he will have both a positive appointee (i.e., Darling-Hammond) and a negative one (Klein or Rhee).
From NY Times: David Brooks' column on education secretary choice:
As in many other areas, the biggest education debates are happening within the Democratic Party. On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards. On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms.

During the presidential race, Barack Obama straddled the two camps. One campaign adviser, John Schnur, represented the reform view in the internal discussions. Another, Linda Darling-Hammond, was more likely to represent the establishment view. Their disagreements were collegial (this is Obamaland after all), but substantive.

In public, Obama shifted nimbly from camp to camp while education experts studied his intonations with the intensity of Kremlinologists. Sometimes, he flirted with the union positions. At other times, he practiced dog-whistle politics, sending out reassuring signals that only the reformers could hear.

Each camp was secretly convinced that at the end of the day, Obama would come down on their side. The reformers were cheered when Obama praised a Denver performance pay initiative. The unions could take succor from the fact that though Obama would occasionally talk about merit pay, none of his actual proposals contradicted their positions.

Obama never had to pick a side. That is, until now. There is only one education secretary, and if you hang around these circles, the air is thick with speculation, anticipation, anxiety, hope and misinformation. Every day, new rumors are circulated and new front-runners declared. It’s kind of like being in a Trollope novel as Lord So-and-So figures out to whom he’s going to propose.

You can measure the anxiety in the reformist camp by the level of nervous phone chatter each morning. Weeks ago, Obama announced that Darling-Hammond would lead his transition team and reformist cellphones around the country lit up. Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford, is a sharp critic of Teach for America and promotes weaker reforms.

Anxieties cooled, but then one morning a few weeks ago, I got a flurry of phone calls from reform leaders nervous that Obama was about to side against them. I interviewed people in the president-elect’s inner circle and was reassured that the reformers had nothing to worry about. Obama had not gone native.

Obama’s aides point to his long record on merit pay, his sympathy for charter schools and his tendency to highlight his commitment to serious education reform.

But the union lobbying efforts are relentless and in the past week prospects for a reforming education secretary are thought to have dimmed. The candidates before Obama apparently include: Joel Klein, the highly successful New York chancellor who has, nonetheless, been blackballed by the unions; Arne Duncan, the reforming Chicago head who is less controversial; Darling-Hammond herself; and some former governor to be named later, with Darling-Hammond as the deputy secretary.

In some sense, the final option would be the biggest setback for reform. Education is one of those areas where implementation and the details are more important than grand pronouncements. If the deputies and assistants in the secretary’s office are not true reformers, nothing will get done.

The stakes are huge. For the first time in decades, there is real momentum for reform. It’s not only Rhee and Klein — the celebrities — but also superintendents in cities across America who are getting better teachers into the classrooms and producing measurable results. There is an unprecedented political coalition building, among liberals as well as conservatives, for radical reform.

No Child Left Behind is about to be reauthorized. Everyone has reservations about that law, but it is the glaring spotlight that reveals and pierces the complacency at mediocre schools. If accountability standards are watered down, as the establishment wants, then real reform will fade.

This will be a tough call for Obama, because it will mean offending people, but he can either galvanize the cause of reform or demoralize it. It’ll be one of the biggest choices of his presidency.

Many of the reformist hopes now hang on Obama’s friend, Arne Duncan. In Chicago, he’s a successful reformer who has produced impressive results in a huge and historically troubled system. He has the political skills necessary to build a coalition on behalf of No Child Left Behind reauthorization. Because he is close to both Obamas, he will ensure that education doesn’t fall, as it usually does, into the ranks of the second-tier issues.

If Obama picks a reformer like Duncan, Klein or one of the others, he will be picking a fight with the status quo. But there’s never been a better time to have that fight than right now.

From Associated Content, 12/6/08:
Although everyone seems to agree that America's public school system needs help, experts disagree about how to fix it. One side advocates sweeping reform; the other side favors less reform and more status quo. During the presidential campaign, President-Elect Barack Obama managed to gain the support of both sides by eluding a definitive position. Now, with the new Secretary of Education to be appointed, the suspense is whether he will choose reform or status quo?

Reform versus Status Quo

The reformers are education advocates who believe that certification programs and the teachers' unions have thwarted true improvement in education. They advocate an influx of new teachers, standardized testing, and accountability for teachers. The other side insists that raising the quality of existing teachers is the key to improving student performance. The oppose Teach for America, a program that allows top college graduates to teach in low-performing schools without certification. They oppose the No Child Left Behind program, which attempts to assess both student and teacher performance with objective measures.

To all these passionate advocates, the choice of the Secretary of Education will signal the path ahead. The nomination is not so much about a person as about a policy. The reform candidates reportedly being considered are Joel Klein, Michele Rhee, and Arne Duncan. On the other side is Linda Darling-Hammond. Ms. Darling-Hammond was an adviser to the Obama campaign and was chosen to lead the transition's education policy team. Whether her role in the transition will lead to an appointment is unknown.


Joyce said...

Despite six years of the Klein administration’s misinformation to the public, there is sufficient data to prove that his reforms have been ineffectual and have produced no significant improvement in student achievement.

The Klein administration claims of a 12 percent increase in Reading and a 19 percent increase in Math scores on the New York State Assessments are inflated. These results include the scores obtained in 2002-2003 well before the implementation of Klein’s reforms. Without the 6 percent increase in Reading and the 15 percent in Math in 2002 - 2003, the figures read a dismal 6.4 percent rise in Reading and only 4.2 percent in Mathematics.

The only independent check on student achievement in New York City also shows a completely different picture from that claimed by Klein. The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress administered by the US Department of Education, considered the gold standard in testing, show that student achievement in New York City has stagnated since 2003 with virtually no improvements for Black, Hispanic and low income students.

We need real accountability and transparency, not Klein’s version of it. Mr. Klein’s public relations team has made sure assessment information is not accurately presented to the public. The failure of Klein’s reforms become all the more evident when we consider all assessment measures – declining SAT and High Schools Advanced Placement Subject Tests, one of the worst graduation rates in the country (43rd out of 50 large US cities), a 50 percent drop in students attending gifted programs in NYC, etc.

Mark Simon said...

Your reprinting of Republican David Brooks' Column was unfortunate. Brooks substituted propaganda and myth for facts and got it exactly wrong (“Who Will He Choose?” Dec. 5 NY Times Opinion column). Linda Darling-Hammond was appointed as head of Obama’s transition team precisely because she represents the real and deep education reform faction in the national education debate. Her track record of analysis of what it takes to improve the quality of teaching and teachers has been the most consistent critical voice over the past 25 years. She is anything but the establishment. On the other side, we have self-described change agents without a real plan for improving teaching and learning. Brooks does a disservice labeling Klein, who ended the successful reforms in New York’s District 2, a reformer. The question is one of deep versus superficial reform. Deep reform demands that school systems nurture skillful teaching, and that standards assess students’ higher order thinking skills, not just multiple choice tests. We can do better than the superficial reforms that have led to very mixed results over the past eight years. Obama should go with the real reformer, Linda Darling-Hammond.

AL_EastCoasting said...

Mark Simon was apparently missing my point. I was emphasizing that Obama is taking a big tent approach, appointing people with differing policy positions. This is seen most clearly in his foreign policy defense positions.
I am not publicizing Brooks' column to endorse his endorsement of Klein's record. Rather, I am posting the column to call attention to clues that Klein appears to be still in the running.

Even though Darling-Hammond is heading the education team, this does not rule out the possibility that Obama will appoint Klein or the equally objectionable Rhee. Again, keep in mind Obama's apparent openness to having competing voices in certain departments in his administration.

Dr. Darling-Hammond would be the best choice to head the Department of Education. Joyce has highlighted the failures of Klein's leadership. As she notes, Klein runs an effective PR machine, misleading the public as to the school system's actual performance.

AL_EastCoasting said...

As careful readers of Obama's appointments will note, his appointment of centrists serves to disappoint liberals.
Take a look at my latest post, "NY Times: Progressives holding tongues on frustration over Obama's centrist cabinet." The Times has brought to light what liberals have been grumbling for weeks: "where are our progressive voices?"