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Posted at 5:47 PM ET, 01/13/2011

Should Duncan have plugged Henderson for D.C. schools boss?

By Valerie Strauss

If Education Secretary Arne Duncan were sitting on the editorial board of The New York Times talking about education, do you think he would put in a plug for a specific candidate to be chancellor of the city's public schools?

I’m guessing the answer would be “no,” but that’s what he did when he visited reporters and editors from The Washington Post this week.

My colleagues Nick Anderson and Bill Turque reported that Duncan said he hoped that Kaya Henderson, the interim superintendent appointed to replace Michelle Rhee as D.C. schools chancellor, would stay in the position “for the long haul.”

Duncan was actually asked about D.C. schools and what he thought about Henderson when he gave his response, and he did make a point of saying that he did not want to micromanage D.C. schools.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray is currently deliberating on whether he wants to have Henderson stay on or bring in someone new to permanently replace Rhee. She quit last fall after then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, who hired her, was defeated in the city’s Democratic primary by Gray.

The story prompted some comments from readers that boiled down to this one from ubblybubbly:

Why is Duncan so involved in the DC school system, isn’t there supposed to be local control?

And this one, from wordwise1:

I can’t get over the number of people outside of DCPS who continue to try to run DCPS and make decisions for everyone else. Will Mayor Gray stand on his own two feet and stand up to the "know it alls" out there and say emphatically, "There is a process in place -- vetting and community input -- and I am the mayor in charge now, not Fenty. I will make my own decisions, not caving into those of you who believe that money and political influence will buy positions in my administration." Mayor Gray, please stand up and let the world see that you have guts, wisdom and ethics.

Should Duncan have kept his mouth shut?

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 13, 2011; 5:47 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools, Education Secretary Duncan  | Tags:  arne duncan, d.c. schools, d.c. schools chancellor, education secretary arne duncan, kaya henderson, mayor gray, mayor vincent gray, vincent gray  
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Is it not true that... Rhee was a mentor to Henderson (just as Bloomberg was a mentor to Rhee)? All are strong proponents of privatizing public school education. So Duncan, who clearly believes in "corporatizing" education, would of course overstep his bounds and give a plug for someone like Henderson as she is going to follow "the Rhee" business model for education. I just hope that Mayor Gray listens to the DC parents, teachers and public and weighs out this decision without the unnecessary "pressure" and input from Arne Duncan.

Posted by: teachermd | January 13, 2011 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Duncan should have kept his mouth shut. This put pressure on Henderson to conform to his agenda. She should be left alone.

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 13, 2011 7:26 PM | Report abuse

To me it is an indication as to how superficial this current crop of education reformers including Secretary Duncan are. Did he do a formal interview, review her credentials, compare her to other candidates. No he seems to have met her a couple times and she uses all the right edu-speak. That is not a way to choose a leader for a school system. Is she even qualified to be a superintendent?

Posted by: Mulch5 | January 13, 2011 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Has Vince Gray ever led a school system? No.

Has Arne Duncan led a school system? Yes.

Furthermore, Arne Duncan is the United States Secretary of Education and speaks for the President of the United States on education matters. Don't forget that, Valerie.

Who's more qualified here than Arne to discuss Kaya's chancellorship? Not Gray, and certainly not Valerie Strauss (who sends her kids to Georgetown Day School).

Posted by: RL68 | January 14, 2011 1:28 AM | Report abuse

Let's ask a bigger picture question: looking at a) graduation rates and b) SAT scores (normalized for comparison purposes), has federal aid to education done anything significant to improve these metrics when compared to those of the mid-sixties?

No. Teachers have unionized and made major advances in compensation and benefits. The concept of "tenure" --- absolutely ridiculous for an academic not publishing or involved in research --- has crept into the lexicon of elementary school education. Kids are graduating in fewer numbers and with less knowledge than their parents did.

I have a friend who can't find carpenter's helpers because kids don't know how to READ A RULER.

Who cares what a bureuacrat like Arne Duncan says about any other bureaucrat. What the press should be doing is focusing like a laser beam on RESULTS from our huge federal outlays in education. Where's the beef??

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | January 14, 2011 4:10 AM | Report abuse

Has Gray or Duncan, or Obama or Henderson ever read an organizational chart? If they had, they'd know that Gray has ultimate responsibility and hiring authority for the DC schools leadership, and every other public service in DC.

Duncan would know enough to do as his own boss, Obama, did when he stayed out of the DC Mayor race, despite Fenty publicly pleading with him for an endorsement.

Posted by: efavorite | January 14, 2011 6:35 AM | Report abuse

If the Department of Education cannot demonstrate ethical leadership, the Department should be abolished. Curriculum and personnel matters are local decisions, and the decisions should not have federal interference.

I’m reminded of the Reading First curriculum disaster. In the last administration, federal employees pushed their favored one-size-fits-all scripted reading curriculum on school districts receiving RF grants. The multi-billion dollar reading initiative was a disaster with students suffering the harmful effects of meaningless decodable books, mind-numbing worksheets, and testing nonsense without learning how to read.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | January 14, 2011 8:28 AM | Report abuse


Do you know anything about what Arne Duncan did in CPS? He did a horrible job. He tore parts of the system apart and then was unable to restore what he tore apart. He also reduced services to special education.

Sorry - before you advocate the secretary of education having control over the chancellorship of DC - learn something about Duncan first.

Besides, the chancellorship of DC belongs to the people of DC - not to Arne Duncan.

Posted by: jlp19 | January 14, 2011 10:49 AM | Report abuse

My question was a procedural one. Is Duncan the head of DC schools or does he have some special input there? Is it because of the Race to the Top money? Does he show similar interest in other districts, like Detroit for example? Is this because the voters decided to do away with the school board and turn control over to the city? I was thinking him saying that is about the best thing you get said on your resume.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 14, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Now that I read your whole column, I see that he was asked his opinion and furthermore that he said he didn't want to micromanage the schools.

So, he was just answering a question.

I didn't really want to pick on the guy. I was just a little surprised that he was so involved, I skimmed the article and thought that he had made a speech about it or something. Since he was asked a question and answered it honestly, there is nothing to complain about.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 14, 2011 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Duncan plainly thinks that because he is pure in his heart, that he is a senior stakeholder, with priority. But, wait a week later, and find out that he also commented on for Prince George's Public Schools' Superintendent John Deasy's appointment to head Los Angles Schools. (Of course, the press placed Deasy's pertinent heritage to a 2 year stint at Gates Foundation.)

Posted by: incredulous | January 14, 2011 11:24 AM | Report abuse

jlp19: "chancellorship of DC belongs to the people of DC "

Really? The people of DC have done such a wonderful job of ending up 51st in the nation in all education metrics for decades. I'm done with "the people of DC" thinking they know how to educate....anything. I don't think "veteran" DC teachers can even teach a dog to sit.

Posted by: RL68 | January 14, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't think you should suggest that all veteran DC teachers are the same. There may be some failures. But certainly there are people who have stayed for the kids.

Posted by: ubblybubbly | January 14, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse


Grow up. Arne Duncan is not an elected official in DC. This is a democracy, not a dictatorship.

A man who has no official position in DC should stay neutral.

Duncan screwed up CPS. How dare you suggest that he should have anything to do with DCPS!

Posted by: jlp19 | January 14, 2011 3:09 PM | Report abuse


I saw the devastation Arne Duncan did to CPS. Don't spout this bs and expect me to be stupid enough to believe it.

Posted by: jlp19 | January 14, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I don't get it, an unelected official who was considered a poor leader in Chicago is supposed to be able to comment on DCPS's choice of school leader?

Posted by: resc | January 14, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

It appears to be a non issue. Donovan reportedly was asked a question and he answered it.

"Should Duncan have plugged Henderson for D.C. schools boss?
By Valerie Strauss
If Education Secretary Arne Duncan were sitting on the editorial board of The New York Times talking about education, do you think he would put in a plug for a specific candidate to be chancellor of the city's public schools?"

- Sure, why would that be a stretch for someone to think the Editorial Board would not be talking about who might be a good schools chief. How else to frame a good editiorial commentary than by having a healthy discussion?

Posted by: dcn8f | January 14, 2011 6:08 PM | Report abuse

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