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Duncan Poised to Assert New Power as Education Chief

President Barack Obama called for big changes in education earlier this week. John Merrow profiles Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who will be heading up the president's calls for reform and who may bring new strategies to the education policy arena.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Next, the new secretary of education and what's on his plate. President Obama earlier this week called for big changes in education. The NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has a look at how the president's point-man plans to approach that.

  • JOHN MERROW, NewsHour Correspondent:

    This time last year, former pro basketball player Arne Duncan was leading the Chicago public schools and occasionally playing basketball with friends, including then-Senator Barack Obama. A lot has changed since then.

    BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: I think we are putting together the best basketball-playing cabinet in American history.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Thanks to President Obama, Arne Duncan has the opportunity to become the most powerful U.S. secretary of education ever.

    ARNE DUNCAN, Secretary of Education: This was not something I aspired to do. Frankly, were it anyone but him, I wouldn't probably do it.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    The two developed a close relationship in Chicago, both on and off the court.

  • ARNE DUNCAN:

    I took him to good schools; I took him to tough schools. So we've had a chance to work together for years.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    That bond, plus an unprecedented level of federal education spending, means Duncan could have a real impact on a troubled public system where nationally 3 out of 10 ninth-graders fail to graduate.

  • ARNE DUNCAN:

    There's a huge opportunity in the stimulus package to reward great behavior and to get folks thinking differently about how we best serve children. My simple rule is, if it's good for children, we're going to do more of it; if it's not good for children, we're going to do less.

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