In Transition: Education Secretary

Monday, November 24, 2008

Joel I. Klein

Current job: New York schools chancellor

Credentials: Leader of the nation's largest school system since 2002, Klein helped New York win the 2007 Broad Prize for Urban Education. The award cited outsize gains in reading and math test scores for economically disadvantaged, African American and Hispanic students. From 1997 to 2001 he was assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's antitrust division.

What he offers: Klein, 62, led the antitrust case against Microsoft in the Clinton administration. He was an unconventional pick six years ago to head the 1.1 million-student New York district. Klein is known as a crusader for reform, and the reputation of the city's schools is on the rise.

Vetting: Some educators have criticized a Klein initiative to give schools letter grades based on test score gains and other factors. Of 284 high schools graded this month, 12 percent earned C's, 3 percent D's and 2 percent F's.

Quote: "Nothing is more important to cities, indeed to our nation, than ending decades of neglect and dysfunction in our public schools," Klein wrote in 2007, vouching for mayoral control of big-city schools. "Mayors are our most important city leaders, and they should be at the helm of this most important city responsibility."

Colin L. Powell

Current job: Retired Army general

Credentials: Powell is a household name for his tenure as secretary of state from 2001 to 2005 and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993. Outside of government he has taken a strong interest in education and youth issues. In 1997 he was founding chairman of the America's Promise Alliance, an organization that works with corporations, charities and communities to encourage volunteerism to help disadvantaged youth.

What he offers: Powell, 71, would bring extraordinary prestige and government savvy to a department that ranks low among Cabinet agencies, and he would draw instant attention to his pet causes, such as reducing the high school dropout rate.

Vetting: The former top Bush administration official would help put a bipartisan stamp on an Obama Cabinet. But even though his name has been floated for education secretary, he has relatively little experience in the nitty-gritty of school reform.

Quote: "We don't hear much about America's children in our national economic debate," Powell wrote this week in Roll Call. "But they are intricately connected to the dire economic consequences we face as a nation -- and their well-being must be a critical part of the solution."

Arne Duncan

Current job: Chicago schools chief executive

Credentials: From 1992 to 1998, Duncan was director of the Ariel Education Initiative to help create educational opportunities for children in the South Side of Chicago. He then became deputy chief of staff for the nation's third-largest school system and in 2001 was named its chief executive. Duncan played professional basketball in Australia from 1987 to 1991.

What he offers: Duncan, 44, has drawn praise for his seven-year run atop a district with more than 400,000 students. His Chicago connections presumably would help give him access to Obama, and he would have clout among educators who, like him, have carried out the No Child Left Behind Act as Congress considers revising it.

Vetting: Duncan supported a plan this fall to start a "gay-friendly" high school, but the idea was recently postponed.

Quote: "The only reason I do this job is I want Chicago to become the best big-city school district in America," Duncan told an interviewer in 2005. "I'm absolutely convinced we have a real chance to do that in the years ahead by continuing to challenge people's expectations -- students, teachers, parents -- not accept mediocrity and push for the best."

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