I can't think of a wiser choice than President-elect Obama's selection of Arne Duncan, current CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as Education Secretary. Duncan has a track-record of educational reform successes and he'll use whatever it takes -- innovative charters, teacher reforms, early childhood programs--to ensure higher achievement. Way back when I was Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, and at the initial stages of implementing No Child Left Behind, Duncan was trying to make sense of the law to the benefit of kids in Chicago. He pushed every button he could but, as we now as we know so clearly, the administration wouldn't budge from its ideological perch.
He'll now have a tall order to fill. Certainly the brand will have to be changed, since the No Child Left Behind act has left a bad taste in the public's mind. It's become arguably the most regulated, red-tape infested act in our nation's educational history. Nevertheless, to back off on accountability would be a wrong move. Duncan will have to improve what's gone wrong and move it in a way that benefits schools, teachers, and kids. Further, he's going to have to re-engage people in his department, civil servants committed to education, who were pushed aside for none other than political reasons. It's an enormous challenge but I think he's up to the task.