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So You Want to Be Education Secretary . . .

President-elect Barack Obama with Arne Duncan, the nominee for secretary of education, who has been widely praised for his work as chief executive of the more-than-400,000-student Chicago school system, the nation's third-largest.
President-elect Barack Obama with Arne Duncan, the nominee for secretary of education, who has been widely praised for his work as chief executive of the more-than-400,000-student Chicago school system, the nation's third-largest. (Pool Photo By Ralf-finn Hestoft)
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Monday, January 12, 2009

Tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to be secretary of education, Chicago public schools chief Arne Duncan goes tomorrow to a Senate confirmation hearing. Staff writer Valerie Strauss asked folks in the education world to provide Duncan their best advice on key issues. Here are some excerpts:

Full versions and advice from others are on http://www.washingtonpost.com/education.

The Professor

You have a chance to make a historic difference by abolishing the No Child Left Behind legislation. Signed into law in 2002, this law has turned our schools into testing factories, narrowed the curriculum to the detriment of everything other than reading and math, and prompted states to claim phony test-score gains.

The law's remedies don't work. The law's sanctions don't work. The goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is ludicrous; no nation or state has ever reached it.

Mr. Secretary, use your bully pulpit to scrap this ineffective set of mandates. And when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is reauthorized, as it must be, insist that schools are accountable not only for educating their students in history, science, literature, civics and the arts, but for safeguarding their health and development.

-- Diane Ravitch, education professor, New York

University, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

The Critic

I'd like to see President Obama set in motion a means of establishing forums -- at the local level, certainly no larger than at the state level -- to debate what educative experiences children should have to help them become engaged in and responsible for their own learning and become citizens in a democracy (which we nearly lost in the last eight years). Right now, we're just teaching them to be passive.

At the same time, I'd like to see him move on [such things as] making routine vision, hearing, and dental checks available where they are most needed. Poor children have many undiagnosed physical problems. Kids who can't hear the teacher well, see the words well, or whose mouths hurt all the time are not likely to succeed in any school.

-- Gerald Bracey, educational psychologist


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