I find tracking the Secretary of Education appointment news maddeningly difficult. And that’s distressing to me, because some of the names I’ve heard floated would be absolutely disastrous. And others I’ve never heard of heard of, have no time to research, and the media does not help me one bit.
So how to judge? How to take a position in this circus?
Here’s a simple way. No frickin’ lawyers for Sec of Ed.
I know that sounds oddly arbitrary, but you have to remember that the Washington bubble is such that most legislators are lawyers, and they have this insane idea that people with law degrees are imbued with some special power. After all, they’re all lawyers, and they’re reviewing global warming data, right? So law must be a fine preparation for anything.
Well, for writing laws it’s not so bad. Otherwise, not so much. The fact is that the competency test for lawyers in the political sphere is always less than that for non-lawyers (guess, for example, what Blago’s degree is in?).
The incomparable Greg Palast gets this, and points out that Bush’s lawyer appointment Michael Brown was largely responsible for the destruction of New Orleans. (He’s a lawyer, right? He could run FEMA!)
And the set of lawyers Obama is looking at for Sec of Ed is not much better. Here’s Palast:
But here we go again. Trial balloons lofted in the Washington Post suggest President-elect Obama is about to select Joel Klein as Secretary of Education. If not Klein, then draft-choice number two is Arne Duncan, Obama’s backyard basketball buddy in Chicago.
Say it ain’t so, President O.
Let’s begin with Joel Klein. Klein is a top notch anti-trust lawyer. What he isn’t is an educator.
Klein is as qualified to run the Department of Education as Dick Cheney is to dance in Swan Lake. While I’ve never seen Cheney in a tutu, I have seen Klein fumble about the stage as Chancellor of the New York City school system.
Klein, who lacks even six minutes experience in the field, was handed management of New York’s schools by that political Jack-in-the-Box, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire mayor is one of those businessmen-turned-politicians who think lawyers and speculators can make school districts operate like businesses.
Klein has indeed run city schools like a business – if the business is General Motors. Klein has flopped. Half the city’s kids don’t graduate.
Klein is out of control. Not knowing a damn thing about education, rather than rely on those who actually work in the field (only two of his two dozen deputies have degrees in education), Klein pays high-priced consultants to tell him what to do. He’s blown a third of a billion dollars on consultant “accountability” projects plus $80 million for an IBM computer data storage system that doesn’t work.
What the heck was the $80 million junk computer software for? Testing. Klein is test crazy. He has swallowed hook, line and sinker George Bush’s idea that testing students can replace teaching them. The madly expensive testing program and consultant-fee spree are paid for by yanking teachers from the classroom.
[Sorry to quote at length, but it's a crime to cut off a good Palast rant.]
Here’s Palast on another lawyer Obama is considering:
The anti-union establishment has a second stringer on the bench waiting in case Klein is nixed: Arne Duncan. Duncan, another lawyer playing at education, was appointed by Chicago’s Boss Daley to head that city’s train-wreck of a school system. Think of Duncan as “Klein Lite.”
What’s Duncan’s connection to the President-elect? Duncan was once captain of Harvard’s basketball team and still plays backyard round-ball with his Hyde Park neighbor Obama.
But Michelle has put a limit on their friendship: Obama was one of the only state senators from Chicago to refuse to send his children into Duncan’s public schools. My information is that the Obamas sent their daughters to the elite Laboratory School where Klein-Duncan teach-to-the-test pedagogy is dismissed as damaging and nutty.
Mr. Obama, if you can’t trust your kids to Arne Duncan, why hand him ours?
Lawyer Duncan is proud to have raised test scores by firing every teacher in low-scoring schools. Which schools? There’s Collins High in the Lawndale ghetto with children from homeless shelters and drug-poisoned ‘hoods. They don’t do well on tests. So Chicago fired all the teachers. They brought in new ones – then fired all of them too: the teachers’ reward for volunteering to work in a poor neighborhood.
Starting to get the picture? (By the way, why are you still reading me? Go over and read Palast. And add him to your Google Reader, the man is one of the last investigative journalists in America).
But if these two choices are death, how do we judge the twenty other possibilities thrown at us?
I repeat, treat this like a search committee, with a good starting filter. No Lawyers.
You’d filter out a lot…. here’s the most recent trial balloon from Team Obama, Michael Bennet:
DENVER — A lawyer-turned-educator known for getting teachers to support merit pay, Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennet may be a candidate to lead the U.S. Department of Education under President-elect Barack Obama, according to a published report.
I don’t have time to research this guy, but you know what? He’s out of the running.