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Education & Curriculum Discuss Potential top education official is Obama neighbor at the General Discussion; CHICAGO (AP) -- The man Barack Obama is said to have tapped to become secretary of education is from the ...

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Old 12-16-2008, 10:56 AM
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Default Potential top education official is Obama neighbor

CHICAGO (AP) -- The man Barack Obama is said to have tapped to become secretary of education is from the president-elect's homecourt in more ways than one.

Arne Duncan is not only a fellow Chicagoan who lives in the same Hyde Park neighborhood as Obama. He is, like the president-elect, an avid basketball player who has played pick-up games with Obama since the 1990s.

The one-time co-captain of Harvard's basketball team who advised Obama on education issues during the campaign has run the country's third-biggest school district for the past seven years.

As CEO of Chicago Public Schools, the 44-year-old has focused on improving struggling schools and closing those that fail - a policy that has sometimes put him at odds with parents and the teachers union.

Obama highlighted Duncan's approach by choosing a Duncan turnaround story as the backdrop for Obama's formal announcement Tuesday - Dodge Renaissance Academy. Duncan closed the perennial test score cellar-dweller 2002 and then reopened it with new staff, an overhauled curriculum and more teacher training. Within years, test scores at the school soared.

At least some Chicago teachers said they were disappointed with Obama's pick.

"I don't believe Mr. Duncan's model is a model for America," said Deborah Lynch, a teacher at Gage Park High School and a president of the Chicago Teachers Union from 2001-2004.

Lynch criticized Duncan's strong advocacy for charter schools, which tens of thousands of Chicago students now attend. She accused him of dismantling of the public school system on which so many poor children depend.

Jay Rehak, a teacher at Chicago's Whitney M. Young High School, said he also would have preferred someone not so supportive of charter schools - which are publicly funded but free of some regulations that govern traditional public schools.

At the same time, Rehak praised Duncan as an honest, straight talker.

"He'll be a cheerleader for trying to improve the schools and that's a good thing," he said. "And hopefully as education secretary, that'll mean getting the schools more resources."

Duncan is also widely viewed as a creative policy maker.

He backed a proposal in October, for instance, for a high school touted as a haven for gay and bullied youth. Backers later pulled their proposal, saying they wanted to spend another year to finalize their plans.

Duncan himself has heralded his district's performance, citing better supported mathematics, science and literacy curricula, as well as changes that offered students more opportunities to study in the afternoons, summers and weekends.

He said in a statement posted on the district's Web site that the goal had been to make Chicago "the premier urban school system in America."

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has been so pleased with Duncan's performance that, even before the presidential election, he said he hoped then-candidate Obama would not take Duncan to Washington if he won.

Duncan majored in sociology at Harvard, graduating magna cum laude in 1987.

After graduating, Duncan played professional basketball for four years in Australia, where he also worked with children who were wards of the state.

Duncan ran an education nonprofit on Chicago's South Side before working in Chicago Public Schools under former chief Paul Vallas, now the schools chief in New Orleans.

TBO.com - News From AP

Interesting pick. I like how he got around the teachers union in the DRA situation by simply closing the school and then re-opening it with a new batch of teachers, but the idea of a special school for bullied/homosexual students is pretty dumb (in the real world, no one's going to protect you from the mean, mean world, so why isolate the kids from reality, only to see it slap them in face upon graduation?).
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