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Transition Team Wrapping Up Work on Education

Now that President-elect Barack Obama has tapped Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan to be secretary of education, the transition team’s plan is for Duncan to select his key department leaders within the next few weeks.

“The assistant secretaries, deputy secretary,  that is really in the purview of the secretary, of course, working with the White House,” said Eugene García, Arizona State University’s vice president for education partnerships, who is wrapping up his voluntary role as a member of Obama’s education agency review team now that Duncan has been named.

“We’re hoping he’ll have a pretty good team together by inauguration,” García said.

Those spots include two crucial posts for higher education:

·         The under secretary of education, who oversees policies and programs on post-secondary education, vocational and adult education, as well as federal student aid.

·         The assistant secretary for postsecondary education, who serves as principal adviser to the secretary on postsecondary education policy and legislation.

García believes that Linda Darling-Hammond, leader of Obama’s Education Policy Working Group who was in the running for secretary of education, is a likely contender for another top education post. Darling-Hammond is an education professor at Stanford University who launched Stanford’s Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the School Redesign Network.

“She’s been very good on the policy side,” García said. “I think she’ll be there. If that’s what she wants to do, she’ll either be in the White House in domestic policy or she’ll be in the Education Department.”

Darling-Hammond did not respond to requests for comment from Diverse.

The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, a lobbying group representing 120 historically Black colleges and universities, is watching the next round of appointments for high-ranking Department of Education officials closely. The organization supported a number of  candidates for  education secretary, not including Duncan, said NAFEO President Lezli Baskerville.

“[Duncan] was not aligned with our hopes and expectations,” Baskerville says.

NAFEO’s disappointment in Duncan’s selection, says Baskerville, “makes it more important for those of us who are passionate about access and equity to weigh in on the assistant secretary position.”

NAFEO is pulling for long-time education advocates like Darling-Hammond or Dr. Sharon Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, to be appointed to the department’s leadership.

Both have experience with higher education and K-12 and are committed to closing the achievement gap and strengthening minority-serving institutions, Baskerville said. 

García cited a fellow member of the Obama’s Education Agency Review Team as another potential appointee: University of Texas at Brownville President Juliet García. She is not granting interviews on the subject, a university spokeswoman said.

“I don’t think she’s ruled that out,” Eugene García said. “My sense is, that in post-secondary, you’re going to need someone who understands the (higher education reauthorization bill). I think Juliet on the Department side probably understands implementation issues pretty well.”

The agency review team’s role was to focus a critical eye on the Department of Education and its performance and to identify major issues for the new administration to address, said Eugene García, who served in the Clinton administration as director of the Office of Bilingual Education.

“Nobody gave me this thorough of an analysis of my office when I took over,” he said. “This, I think, could be helpful.”

He noted that with Duncan’s appointment, the agency review board’s job is essentially completed.

 “The idea, again, is (for the administration) to hit the ground running,” he said. “(For us to tell them), ‘Why would you do this instead of that?’ That’s essentially our role.”

Eugene García said the agency review teams met with various groups and individuals, from key players in the Department of Education, civil rights agencies, the caucuses for Asian, Black and Hispanic members of Congress, as well as education leaders in Congress like Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education.

While the agency review team’s role was to identify major policy issues – not to recommend potential appointees – they forwarded a number of names to the transition team offered by those constituencies.

Among them were:

  • Kris Gutiérrez, a professor of social research methodology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
  • Elena Izquierdo, associate professor of teacher education at the University of Texas at El Paso.
  • María Santos, superintendent for the New York City Department of Education’s Office of English Language Learners.

Raúl González, director of legislative affairs for the National Council of La Raza, said that the civil rights group’s recommendation to the transition team is to not limit Latino appointments to traditional minority posts such as the Office of English Language Acquisition.

“Our recommendation is that ELL issues cut across all these different schools and school districts in a way we haven’t seen before, so we think there should be ELL expertise in every office they’re trying to staff,” González said. “It is one of the biggest emerging policy issues over the last few years, because almost half of Latino kids in K-12 are English-language learners. So, obviously, this is important to us.”

García said the agency review team heard such recommendations from groups representing Asians, Blacks and Hispanics.

“You want that expertise dispersed,” he said. “Don’t appoint the minority individuals just to serve minority programs. You’ve got expertise that’s needed throughout the agency. That was the concern of all of us as we listened.”

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