Who’s the Real Arne Duncan?

So who is this Arne Duncan guy anyway? The CEO of Chicago Public Schools, tapped by Barack Obama to head the federal Department of Education, is seen as a radical corporate-controlled accountability zealot by some and a moderate centrist by others.

I see him as something of a conundrum. Consider this: Duncan signed both the Joel Klein/Al Sharpton-backed Education Equality Project statement and the “Bold Approach” statement — a critique and counter-proposal to NCLB signed by progressive educators like Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling-Hammond, and John Goodlad (among others).

So will the real Arne Duncan step forward? Does he agree with the central message of the “Bold Approach” statement? Evidence demonstrates . . . that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can substantially, consistently, and sustainably close these gaps.

Or does he believe, like so many neoliberals, that “poverty is an excuse”?

Mike Klonsky holds out hope that Duncan was a tool of Chicago mayor Richard Daley and, once out from under his thumb, might produce meaningful reform. Something — albeit a small scrap — to be optimistic about RE: the fed’s role in education?

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.