Arne Duncan—Supports Local Reform and State Flexibility

President-elect Obama is set to nominate Chicago Public School CEO Arne Duncan to be the next Secretary of Education.

Mr. Duncan is known as one of a handful of innovative, reform-minded big city schools chiefs. How that will translate to the national level remains to be seen. Conservatives should be heartened that Mr. Duncan recognizes the need for local leadership and innovation. And that he supports amending federal policy to grant states greater flexibility and autonomy. Yet given his support for sharp federal spending increases, it is unclear how well the Secretary translates local lessons to the federal level.

What is clear is that Mr. Duncan’s past work has earned applause from school reformers. He supports charter schools, public school choice, and merit pay for teachers and school leaders. Duncan also supports holding schools accountable for results and maintaining transparency about school performance through public reporting.

In his words, Duncan’s mission has been to make Chicago “the premier urban school system in America.” And his leadership appears to be making a difference, with Chicago students making gains on a number of outcome measures.

Of course, the 24 billion dollar question is: what the next Education Secretary thinks about No Child Left Behind and the federal government’s role in education?

Mr. Duncan supports NCLB. But as the leader of the nation’s third largest school district, he has dealt with the challenges of implementing the federal law. Those of us who are skeptical that Washington can fix the problem in the nation’s public schools should be encouraged by Mr. Duncan’s support for providing states and school districts with greater flexibility and autonomy.

Testifying before the House Education and Workforce Committee in 2006, Mr. Duncan spoke approvingly of NCLB’s accountability framework. But he noted that Chicago’s success depended largely on the opportunity to innovate in how federal goals are met:

Congress should maintain NCLB’s framework of high expectations and accountability. But it should also amend the law to give schools, districts and states the maximum amount flexibility possible—particularly districts like ours with a strong track record of academic achievement and tough accountability.

This suggests that the next Secretary may be open to the proposals championed by conservatives like the A-PLUS Acts that grant states greater autonomy and flexibility in how funds are used if states agree to maintain academic accountability and transparency. Continue reading…


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