Arne Duncan for Ed Secretary

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ARNE DUNCAN FOR ED SECRETARY….It’s odd, but possibly the most contentious appointment Barack Obama has in his portfolio is someone to head up the Department of Education. The war on the left between the “reformers” and the “everyone elses” in the ed world makes battles over Afghanistan or bailing out GM look tepid by comparison, and apparently Obama decided he didn’t really want to pick sides. Dana Goldstein comments on Obama’s pick of Arne Duncan, the latest in his almost unbroken series of senior staff needle-threading exercises:

Duncan is one of the only prominent education leaders in the country who signed both the Broader, Bolder and the Education Equality Project manifestos. Duncan, a longtime Obama friend and adviser, has shown particular interest in early childhood education, a major part of Obama’s education and anti-poverty agenda. And he sends his own kids to Chicago public schools. Here’s hoping he’ll live in the city when he moves to D.C. and continue his family’s track record of support for the public system.

….Any pick of an actual superintendent to head the Department of Education, as opposed to a governor relatively ignorant of the nitty gritty of education debates, is a move by Obama in the direction of serious, hands-on reform. That’s good news, I think, for those of us — regardless of ideology — who hope education will become a first tier issue under the Obama administration.

I guess so — though Rod Paige was a superintendent too, and that didn’t do much to make education a first tier priority in the Bush administration beyond passing NCLB.

There’s something a little surreal about all this, though. At the risk of sounding like an idiot TV talking head, I’m beginning to wonder if Obama plans to appoint anyone who’s even the teensiest bit controversial to his senior staff. (And no, Rahm Emanuel very decidedly doesn’t count. Give me a break.) There’s something sort of oppressively bland about this entire exercise, and I say that as someone who’s about as personally bland as you could ever hope to meet. Still, while I may be all for technocratic competence, I can’t help but feel that No-Drama Obama could use an appointment or two whose only purpose is to mix things up a little and piss off the right people. Who will be his Harold Ickes?

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