President-elect Barack Obama named Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as his education secretary on Tuesday — choosing a hometown friend who has introduced some education reforms popular with conservatives without alienating teachers unions.
As Chicago’s top school official for seven years, Mr. Duncan has overseen the closure of struggling schools, advocated merit pay for better teachers, and adopted a program to use private money to reward children for better grades.
“When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners,” Mr. Obama said, making the announcement at a school that he said has made remarkable progress under Mr. Duncan’s leadership.
“He’s not beholden to any one ideology, and he’s worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Duncan, a 44-year-old Harvard graduate, has raised achievement in the nation’s third-largest school district and often faced the ticklish challenge of shuttering failing schools and replacing ineffective teachers, usually with improved results.
He represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.
In June, rival nationwide groups of educators circulated competing educational manifestos, with one group espousing a get-tough policy based on pushing teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement, and another arguing that schools alone could not close the racial achievement gap and urging new investments in school-based health clinics and other social programs to help poor students learn.
Mr. Duncan was the only big-city superintendent to sign both manifestos.