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Obama Looks To Chicago For Education Secretary

President-elect Barack Obama announces that he has selected Arne Duncan (left) to be education secretary.
Nicholas Kamm
AFP/Getty Images
President-elect Barack Obama announces that he has selected Arne Duncan (left) to be education secretary.

President-elect Obama announced Tuesday his pick for secretary of education, calling Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan a hands-on reformer with a proven record of success.

"For years, we've talked our education problems to death, but failed to act," Obama said, speaking at a news conference held in a school that he said has made remarkable progress under Duncan's leadership.

"We can't continue like this. It's morally unacceptable for our children," Obama said.


For the past seven years, Duncan, 44, has run the nation's third-largest school district. Duncan, a Harvard graduate, played professional basketball in Australia and later ran a nonprofit education organization on Chicago's South Side before going to work in the city's public schools.

He is known for being reform-minded and pragmatic and has pushed to improve the quality of the schools in his district while closing those that fail to achieve higher test scores.

"When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners," Obama said. "He's not beholden to any one ideology, and he's worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality."

The nomination, which is subject to Senate confirmation, is expected to be well-received among many educators as well as the 1.4 million-strong American Federation of Teachers.

The union had pushed for a strong advocate for their members such as Obama adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor. But the head of the union, Randi Weingarten, says Duncan seems willing to work with the organization.


"Arne Duncan actually reaches out and tries to do things in a collaborative way," Weingarten said earlier this month.

Obama pointed to Duncan's progress as head of the Chicago schools, where in the past seven years he made major improvements in test scores and lowering dropout rates.

On a key standardized test, Obama said, "the gains of Chicago students have been twice as big as those for students in the rest of the state."

Taking the podium briefly, Duncan said he had been inspired by Obama's presidential campaign and the Cabinet he is developing.

"No issue is more important than strengthening our nation's education," Duncan said, adding that he was "eager to apply some of the lessons learned here in Chicago to the education system in the rest of the country."

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