The International Committee of the Fourth International (in coordination with its Department of Redundancy Department) finds fault with President-elect Obama’s cabinet choices, especially Secretary of Education-nominee Arne Duncan:
Duncan, 44, a Harvard-trained lawyer like Obama rather than a professional educator, was tapped by Mayor Richard Daley to head the Chicago schools in 2001. He has built a reputation as an education “reformer,” a misnomer that is identified with the drive to privatize public education and subordinate it ever more closely to the needs of big business.
In Chicago, Duncan’s tenure has been identified with his “Renaissance 2010” initiative, which has involved the punitive shutting down of low-performing schools in the city’s poorer neighborhoods and then reopening them after replacing the staff or forcing teachers to reapply for their old positions.
Other practices carried out under his direction include performance pay for teachers, the promotion of charter schools and forcing failing students to repeat years.
He is seen as a strong supporter of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative of the Bush administration, in particular the imposition of standardized testing and the rote learning that goes with it.
Bush’s former Secretary of Education Rod Paige called Duncan a “budding hero in the education business.”
In Chicago and many other urban districts, the policy has led to a kind of educational triage, in which poorer performing schools are shuttered and less able students are forced out. Just 51 percent of Chicago’s public school students manage to complete a high school education in 12 years.
Duncan’s nomination was strongly supported by the pro-Republican Chicago Tribune, which portrayed the debate over a new education secretary as one between “two warring camps—reformers who demand more accountable schools and defenders of the complacent status quo.” In general, the latter camp is meant to refer to teachers and their unions.
Obama, the paper argued, had to appoint someone willing to “smash skulls” or risk “telegraphing that the education industry has succeeded in outlasting the Bush push for increasingly tough performance standards in schools.”
Also backing Duncan was David Brooks, the Republican columnist for the New York Times, who argued that he possessed “the political skills necessary to build a coalition on behalf of No Child Left Behind reauthorization.”
The selection was praised by the Republican-aligned Thomas B. Fordham Institute, whose director Chester Finn, a former education department official in the Reagan administration, commented that Duncan “is a proven and committed and innovative education reformer” who is “not tethered to the public school establishment and its infinite interest groups.”
And Bush’s Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings praised Duncan as a “great choice,” calling him “a visionary leader and fellow reformer.”
Some of these same Republican and right-wing elements had also backed New York City’s schools Chancellor Joel Klein, but, as Brooks wrote in the Times, saw his appointment unlikely because he had been “blackballed by the unions.” Duncan was seen as a worthy substitute because he was “less controversial,” a “stealth candidate,” prepared to implement the same policies but with less friction.
Indeed, following the announcement, American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten commented positively, “Arne Duncan actually reaches out and tries to do things in a collaborative way.” The message was clear: the main teachers’ union is prepared to collaborate with the Obama administration in implementing much the same reactionary education policies as those promoted by the Bush administration before it.