Obama Education Pick Bridges Unions, Reformers

Arne Duncan won out as President-elect Barack Obama’s designate as education secretary by neatly skirting the battle lines among groups seeking to influence future national policy. In addition, it didn’t hurt that Duncan — the head of Chicago’s school system — plays basketball with Obama.

Some teachers unions had objected to Joel Klein, New York City’s school chancellor, who was also mentioned as a candidate for the job. Others took aim at Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor whom detractors said was anti-reform.

But a strong hint at Obama’s choice came last week when Duncan visited Washington and met with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Duncan is a Harvard graduate who made friends with Obama while playing pickup basketball. Duncan has won praise from some education reform groups for a willingness to make hard choices as to what schools could be fixed, and which had to be closed, while avoiding dramatic public fights over policy, a quality that Obama prizes.

For instance, Duncan won the support of Democrats for Education Reform, which said that he enjoyed “credibility with various factions in the education policy debate and would allow President Obama to avoid publicly choosing sides in that debate in his most high-profile education nomination.”