ed sec spec

Duncan and Kopp, but not Klein, are boosted for Obama Cabinet

Wendy Kopp, the hard-driving founder of Teach For America, and Arne Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago, are being touted as top candidates for U.S. Education Secretary by an influential  lobbying group that pushes for aggressive changes in American schools. Their names are included in a 34-page transition memo to President-elect Barack Obama prepared by the group, Democrats for Education Reform, and obtained by GothamSchools.

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has received support from DFER, which is based in Manhattan, but the group’s memo specifically rules him out as a possible Education Secretary. The memo says Klein’s aggressive efforts to improve public schools are admirable, but that they make him and the like-minded D.C. school chancellor, Michelle Rhee, a poor choice for Barack Obama’s White House. “The need for them to occasionally ‘break some china’ in order to affect much-needed change puts them and other hard-charging reforms like them in an unlikely spot to be selected for a role like Secretary of Education (a role for which either would be well suited),” the memo says.

The memo also elevates the New York-based education leader Jon Schnur, who co-chaired Obama’s education advisory board during his campaign, as another choice for a top administration position. Schnur founded the group New Leaders for New Schools, a kind of Teach For America for principals that is based in Manhattan. He is also the leader of the movement we’ve been trying to name on this site.

What the Democrats for Education Reform group recommends will not necessarily be adopted, but the group’s recommendations will surely be taken seriously. Members of the group’s advisory board were donors to Obama’s campaign, and the group has worked with Schnur, who is serving on Obama’s transition team. Yet the group is also firmly on one side of the ongoing divide inside of the Democratic Party over education issues, and even its own members may not know which side President-elect Obama will take in that fight.

The memo is the first time Wendy Kopp’s name has been mentioned as a possible U.S. Education Secretary. Democrats for Education Reform offer her as a second choice behind Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago, saying that either she or Jon Schnur would make good choices “if Duncan was unable/unwilling.”

Kopp created Teach For America out of an idea born in her senior thesis at Princeton University. The group has since been credited with transforming American education by recruiting college graduates with Ivy League pedigrees into some of the worst-performing public schools in America. The Democrats for Education Reform memo describes Kopp’s work as inspirational. “At a time when the popularity of the public education franchise was suffering, Kopp’s leadership ushered an optimistic breeze of reform and has created an entire army ready to fight to save and improve public education,” the memo says.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.