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Obama's Possible Candidates for Education Secretary

Enter these names of the
Education Secretary "possibilities" in this
article into a search from the home page on
this site. With the exception of Linda Darling-
Hammond, these people will give you plenty of
reason to weep, fume, and rage. Assuming a
lapdog role throughout the campaign, teachers
and their unions let Obama get away with never
taking education seriously, and now they will
reap the results: a corporate model of co-
called reform.

by Paul Basken

If history is any guide, Barack Obama will
spend several weeks chugging through higher
priorities on his presidential to-do list
before choosing an education secretary.

And if he follows past trends, Mr. Obama is not
likely to choose a secretary on the basis of
higher-education policy. His nominee will be
the ninth U.S. secretary of education, and
nearly all of the previous eight were known
more for their backgrounds at the elementary
and secondary levels.

Only one had a background focused primarily on
higher-education: Lauro F. Cavazos Jr., who had
been president of Texas Tech University and
dean of the Tufts University School of
Medicine. Mr. Cavazos was named education
secretary in 1988, the last year of the Reagan
administration, and resigned in 1990, under
President George Bush.

"There's been a big emphasis, sure, on
elementary and secondary," Mr. Cavazos said in
an interview. "That's where practically all of
them have come from, except for me."

Key Names

Mr. Cavazos is among many observers who don't
want to hazard a guess as to whom Mr. Obama
might choose as his top education official.

Other education-policy experts suggested some
names, although most said they were doing so
without any great confidence, given not only
the possibility of a surprise nominee, but also
the traditional refusal of possible nominees to
seriously consider such questions until after
the votes have been counted.

The suggested names include campaign advisers,
current and former governors and state
education officials, policy-research
professionals, and people Mr. Obama knows
through personal friendships or home-state

They include:

Linda Darling-Hammond, an adviser to Mr.
Obama's campaign and an education professor at
Stanford University, whose research and
teaching has focused on issues of school
restructuring, teacher quality, and educational
equity. She is co-director of the School
Redesign Network, established in 2000 at
Stanford University to pursue and promote
research that seeks to improve secondary

Arne Duncan, chief executive of the Chicago
public-school system, who serves on the Board
of Overseers of Harvard College. Mr. Duncan is
an adviser and friend of Mr. Obama's, as well
as a fellow basketball player. The president-
elect has touted Mr. Duncan's success in
improving the city's public schools. Mr. Duncan
also has helped Mr. Obama expand his
appreciation of the potential benefits of
charter schools.

James B. Hunt Jr., a former governor of North
Carolina who served on the federal Commission
on the Future of Higher Education, formed by
the current education secretary, Margaret
Spellings. A partner in the Raleigh, N.C.,
office of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge
& Rice, Mr. Hunt focused as governor on early-
childhood development and improving the quality
of teaching. He also serves as chairman of the
board of the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for
Educational Leadership and Policy, a part of
the University of North Carolina that seeks to
improve public education on a national level.

Janet Napolitano, Arizona's governor, who was
considered a contender for Mr. Obama's vice-
presidential pick. She cannot run for governor
again in 2010 because of term limits and may
consider a run for Mr. McCain's Senate seat.
The daughter of a dean of the University of New
Mexico School of Medicine, Ms. Napolitano has
used her position as governor to emphasize
elementary- and secondary-education policy,
signing legislation that offered voluntary
full-day kindergarten throughout Arizona.

Andrew J. Rotherham, an adviser to Mr. Obama's
campaign and a co-founder of Education Sector,
an education-policy research group. He is also
a member of the Virginia Board of Education,
which sets statewide curriculum standards, and
served as a White House policy adviser in the
Clinton administration.

Jonathan Schnur, chief executive of New Leaders
for New Schools, a New York-based organization
that uses educational research to train
principals of urban public schools. Mr. Schnur
was also an education-policy adviser in the
Clinton administration.

Other Possibilities

Among the other names that higher-education
experts have cited as possibilities are two
former West Virginia governors who made
education a political priority: W. Gaston
Caperton III, president of the College Board,
and Robert E. Wise Jr., president of the
Alliance for Excellent Education, which
promotes policies to help middle- and high-
school students attend college.

Other Democratic governors mentioned as
potential contenders for the job include
Kathleen Sebelius, of Kansas, and Timothy M.
Kaine, of Virginia, both of whom were seen as
possible vice-presidential candidates with Mr.

Education-policy professionals whose names have
come up include Sharon P. Robinson, president
of the American Association of Colleges for
Teacher Education, a lobbying group that
represents schools of education, and Michael
Cohen, president of Achieve, a group founded by
governors and business leaders to help states
raise academic standards at the elementary and
secondary level.

Among city school officials cited as
possibilities are Joel I. Klein, chancellor of
the New York City public schools; Paul G.
Vallas, superintendent of the Recovery School
District of New Orleans and a former chief
executive of the Chicago public schools; and
Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington,
D.C., public-school system.

The list of other local leaders who might
receive consideration includes Michael
Johnston, director of the Mapleton
Expeditionary School of the Arts, in Denver,
who advised Mr. Obama's campaign and helped
found New Leaders for New Schools; and Diane
Shust, director of government relations at the
National Education Association, the nation's
largest teachers union.

Those whose names were raised as long shots
include Christopher Edley Jr., dean of the law
school at the University of California at
Berkeley and a former professor at Harvard Law
School, who served as a White House domestic-
policy adviser in both the Carter and Clinton

Another might be Colin L. Powell, the first
secretary of state under President Bush who
gave Mr. Obama's campaign a high-profile
endorsement last month. Mr. Powell is a founder
of America's Promise Alliance, a coalition of
businesses, educators, and others working to
improve the health and well-being of children.

Importance of Higher Education

Even if higher education is not Mr. Obama's top
priority when choosing an education secretary,
he still might want someone with a higher-
education background, said Shirley M.
Hufstedler, chosen by President Jimmy Carter as
the nation's first education secretary.

The Bush administration has been too focused on
testing standards, she said, arguing that a
secretary with a professional background in
higher education could help focus elementary
and secondary schools' curricula on the skills
and abilities that matter most in college.

"You need to have somebody who understands how
youngsters learn and how teachers teach," said
Ms. Hufstedler, who is now a senior counsel at
the law firm Morrison & Foerster in Los
Angeles. "Not simply teaching to the test, but
teaching to the substance of whatever the
course may be."

— Paul Basken
Chronicle of Higher Education


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