Chicago Schools Chief Is Obama Education Pick

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President-elect Barack Obama has named Arne Duncan of Chicago as his secretary of Education, drafting a fellow Chicagoan who has been associated with innovations in that city's troubled schools. Obama said Duncan was a "hands-on" practitioner of school reform.


Another day, another Cabinet announcement from President-elect Barack Obama. This time it was the education secretary. Mr. Obama is nominating the head of the Chicago school system, Arne Duncan. In reaching out to Duncan, the president-elect chose a friend and a Chicago neighbor. Duncan shares Mr. Obama's belief in the importance of education and his love of basketball. NPR's Brian Naylor reports from Chicago.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The president-elect named his choice of Duncan in the gym of the Dodge Renaissance Academy, a Chicago elementary school and a symbol of Duncan's efforts to overhaul the nation's third-largest school system. Duncan ordered the school closed down and then reopened it with new teachers and a new curriculum. That led to higher test scores. Mr. Obama said that there is a need to raise expectations for education throughout the nation.

BARACK OBAMA: We're not going to transform every school overnight. And there are some school systems - not just big city school systems - there are rural schools and suburban schools that just aren't up to snuff. But what we can expect is that each and every day, we are thinking of new, innovative ways to make the schools better.

NAYLOR: Making the economy better is already occupying much of the president-elect's time. He met with his economic advisers as the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates yet again in an effort to loosen credit and spur lending. Mr. Obama said it was not wise for him to comment directly on the actions of the independent Fed, but he said it's clear that more needs to be done.

OBAMA: We are running out of the traditional ammunition that's used in a recession, which is to lower interest rates. They're getting to be about as low as they can go. And although the Fed is still going to have more tools available to it, it is critical that the other branches of government step up, and that's why the economic recovery plan is so absolutely critical.

NAYLOR: Mr. Obama has promised an economic stimulus program that would set in motion what he calls shovel-ready projects, and restated his aim today of creating two and a half million new jobs. But he turned the focus back to education, saying better schools were a key to any economic revival.

OBAMA: If we can get young people focused on education, if we can change our cultures so that we are once again valuing intellectual achievement, and if we are willing to all pull together around making our schools better, that's going to be the single biggest determinant in terms of how our economy does long-term.

NAYLOR: The president-elect was asked by reporters again about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who's been charged with, among other things, conspiracy to sell Mr. Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. The state Legislature has taken a first step towards impeachment of the governor, and there have been calls for a special election to fill the Obama vacancy. But the president-elect refused to weigh in on the matter.

OBAMA: I've said that I don't think the governor can serve effectively in his office. I'm going to let the state Legislature make a determination in terms of how they want to proceed.

NAYLOR: The president-elect was also asked about his pledge to appoint Republicans to his Cabinet. So far, the only Republican named has been Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration. Mr. Obama said there were more appointments to make. It's widely expected he will nominate Democratic Senator Ken Salazar from Colorado as secretary of interior, a choice that could be announced tomorrow. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Chicago.

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Obama Looks To Chicago For Education Secretary

President-elect Barack Obama and education secretary-designee Arne Duncan i

President-elect Barack Obama announces that he has selected Arne Duncan (left) to be education secretary. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
President-elect Barack Obama and education secretary-designee Arne Duncan

President-elect Barack Obama announces that he has selected Arne Duncan (left) to be education secretary.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Arne Duncan Picked For Education Post

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President-elect Obama announced Tuesday his pick for secretary of education, calling Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan a hands-on reformer with a proven record of success.

"For years, we've talked our education problems to death, but failed to act," Obama said, speaking at a news conference held in a school that he said has made remarkable progress under Duncan's leadership.

"We can't continue like this. It's morally unacceptable for our children," Obama said.

For the past seven years, Duncan, 44, has run the nation's third-largest school district. Duncan, a Harvard graduate, played professional basketball in Australia and later ran a nonprofit education organization on Chicago's South Side before going to work in the city's public schools.

He is known for being reform-minded and pragmatic and has pushed to improve the quality of the schools in his district while closing those that fail to achieve higher test scores.

"When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners," Obama said. "He's not beholden to any one ideology, and he's worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality."

The nomination, which is subject to Senate confirmation, is expected to be well-received among many educators as well as the 1.4 million-strong American Federation of Teachers.

The union had pushed for a strong advocate for their members such as Obama adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor. But the head of the union, Randi Weingarten, says Duncan seems willing to work with the organization.

"Arne Duncan actually reaches out and tries to do things in a collaborative way," Weingarten said earlier this month.

Obama pointed to Duncan's progress as head of the Chicago schools, where in the past seven years he made major improvements in test scores and lowering dropout rates.

On a key standardized test, Obama said, "the gains of Chicago students have been twice as big as those for students in the rest of the state."

Taking the podium briefly, Duncan said he had been inspired by Obama's presidential campaign and the Cabinet he is developing.

"No issue is more important than strengthening our nation's education," Duncan said, adding that he was "eager to apply some of the lessons learned here in Chicago to the education system in the rest of the country."



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