Obama’s pick for Education secretary garners widespread praise

President-elect Barack Obama nominated Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as Education secretary on Tuesday, picking an experienced executive who closed failing schools, embraced charter schools and negotiated a pay-for-performance program with teachers unions.

"For years we've talked our education problems to death in Washington, but we failed to act, stuck in the same tired debates that have stymied our progress, all along failing to acknowledge that both sides have good ideas and good intentions," Obama said.

Duncan has served as chief executive of Chicago public schools since 2001. Obama praised his embrace of diverse methods for improving education. Duncan is "not beholden to one ideology" but shares with the president-elect a "deep pragmatism in terms of how we go about" improving education, Obama said.

In Chicago, Duncan closed a failing school and reopened it as an academy where students learned from teachers pursuing degrees in higher education. He supported master teacher certification, backed public charter schools and linked teacher pay to school performance. Duncan has called education "the civil rights issue of our generation."

The choice pleased teachers unions and education reformers. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, lauded Duncan's collaboration with Chicago's teacher unions. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who has championed reform and tough accountability standards, called Duncan "a visionary leader and fellow reformer who cares deeply about students."

House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller said Duncan is "an experienced and accomplished leader who is open to the new, bold and innovative ideas needed to truly improve our schools." A spokeswoman for Education and Labor ranking member Howard (Buck) McKeon said Duncan "has earned a reputation as a reformer who's not afraid to shake up the status quo in order to improve student achievement, and his appointment is a welcome sign."

Congress has yet to tackle a reauthorization of President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation, and advocates and detractors of the bill say the 111th Congress needs to make changes to it. So far, lawmakers have been unable to agree on the best way to hold students and teachers accountable for results in the classroom. Unions have balked over proposed merit pay for teachers.

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