Obama’s pick for Education Secretary is Fantastic

I just realized today that Barack Obama’s new Education Secretary is Arne Duncan, the former head of the Chicago Public Schools.  He is a top notch choice who I think will do a great job.

I first heard about Duncan when I read Freakonomics a few years ago. He was the head of CPS when Steven Levitt and Brian Jacob were studying whether teachers were cheating on standardized tests by filling in or changing answers on students’ tests.  They ran some regressions and found a bunch of suspicious answer patters from a surprisingly high number of teachers.  When Levitt and Jacob brought their suspicions to Duncan and the CPS, Duncan ordered audit testing to try to confirm the results.  The retesting confirmed that the teachers were cheating for their students and Duncan ordered the firing of the guilty teachers.

Duncan could easily have swept the study under the rug and not allowed retesting, but he did not.  Instead, he made a tough decision that was unpopular with the teachers and challenged the status quo.  His choice got rid of bad teachers who were masking their poor teaching performance by cheating on tests.  It would be great to see others in government make these kinds of tough choices.  I think every government agency could benefit from people following Duncan’s example.

Hopefully, he can help bring some positive change to American schools with is hard work and innovative approach to public service.