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Obama Taps Chicago Schools Chief for Education Post

President-elect Barack Obama named Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as his pick for education secretary Tuesday. Analysts examine the challenges facing U.S. schools and how Duncan's efforts to turn around troubled Chicago schools will translate to the Cabinet post.

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    Arne Duncan has directed Chicago's public school system since 2001 and, with Senate approval, will be the next U.S. secretary of education.


    When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners.


    President-elect Obama made the announcement this morning framing his choice in economic terms.


    If we want to out-compete the world tomorrow, then we're going to have to out-educate the world today. Unfortunately, when our high school dropout rate is one of the highest in the industrialized world, when a third of all fourth-graders can't do basic math, when more and more Americans are getting priced out of attending college, we're falling far short of that goal.


    At the helm of the third-largest school system in the country, Duncan expanded charter schools and supported a plan that rewards teachers with better pay for higher student achievement. Test scores and graduation rates have risen moderately since then.

    ARNE DUNCAN, secretary of Education-designate: Whether it's fighting poverty, strengthening our economy, or promoting opportunity, education is the common thread. It is the civil rights issue of our generation, and it is the one sure path to a more equal, fair, and just society.


    If confirmed, Duncan would take over the nation's Education Department at a critical time, as efforts to revamp the federal law known as No Child Left Behind have been stalled. It's due for renewal, but Congress is waiting for new direction from a new administration.

    The program, signed into law by President Bush in 2002, has been controversial. Supporters say it improves student performance, but a number of educators in both rural and urban districts argue the law is too inflexible and focused too heavily on standardized tests.

    Back in 2006, Duncan called on Congress to double funding for No Child Left Behind. He struck a middle ground in other educational issues, pushing for strong measures to improve schools, but also reaching out to the teachers union and the community.

    For a look at the challenges facing the president-elect and Arne Duncan, we get the perspectives of two close observers of public education.

    Michael Petrilli, vice president of national programs and policy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Andrew Rotherham, co-founder and co-director of Education Sector, an education policy think-tank. He served as special assistant to the president during the Clinton administration, where he dealt with education policy.