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Obama on "pragmatist" pick: "Let's not be clouded by ideology"

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President-elect Obama just announced Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools chief, as his secretary of education. In doing so he suggested that pragmatism, not ideology, will be his guiding principle in navigating the wars inside the Democratic Party over how to improve schools. “Let’s not be clouded by ideology,” he said, praising Duncan’s “deep pragmatism.”

Obama reiterated his support for innovations like merit pay for teachers and charter schools, yet also indicated he may sympathize with the incrementalists in the disrupter-versus-incrementalist debate that George Miller, the chair of the House’s education committee, laid out recently. “We’re not going to transform the schools overnight,” he said.

As Elizabeth wrote yesterday, the next place to watch is the sub-cabinet positions. Will Duncan be advised by reformer-favorites Jon Schnur and Andrew Rotherham, selections that would please current Department of Education officials? Will he be advised instead by Linda Darling-Hammond, the Stanford professor feared by reformers? Alternatively, could both sides of the debate get top spots, guaranteeing internal struggles that go on during the administration? “The battle that’s played out the last few weeks doesn’t just end now with this announcement,” a source who’s been involved in the war so far just told me. “I don’t see Randi just rolling over right now.”

The stakes are the future of the No Child Left Behind law, testing, and what kind of teacher-training changes the federal government encourages.

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