Who Will Obama Pick as Secretary of Education?

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(l. to r.) Aaron J. Latham / AP ; Bruce Glikas / FilmMagic / Getty ; Brendan Smialowski / Reuters

(L to R) Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, Joel Klein, and Colin Powell

As Barack Obama begins to assess his potential picks for his cabinet, Secretary of Education is not one of the positions you would necessarily expect him to focus on first. But American parents especially may wish to study up on the possible candidates. After all, if Obama's campaign proposals are to be fulfilled, Margaret Spellings' successor could oversee a dramatic $18 billion overhaul of the nation's public education system over the next few years.

Whoever gets the spot, Obama's new Ed chief should expect to face a huge test right off in the contentious reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind act, considered to be one of the first priorities in Congress come January. Down the road, he or she can also plan to direct the founding of hundreds of new charter schools and the spread of universal pre-K nationwide, as well as a continued focus on increased accountability and a better trained teacher corps.

So whom will President-Elect Obama tap for this enormous task? That announcement isn't expected until at least early next week. But here's a look at some of the presumed contenders.


Current position: New York City schools chancellor

Why he could be tapped: In New York, the former Clinton appointee has distinguished himself as a keen reformer under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. An attorney by training, Klein has also shown himself adept at working with unlikely partners — union leaders as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton — and is a major proponent of charter schools, a keystone in Obama's education agenda.

Why the job will go to someone else: With Bloomberg recently getting the OK to seek a third term as mayor, Klein may prefer to stay put and finish the job of reforming New York's 1,500 schools.


Current position: Top Obama education adviser

Why she could be tapped: Her day job is professor of education at Stanford, but for the past year, she has been a key voice defining Obama's positions on issues such as school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity.

Why the job will go to someone else: Darling-Hammond is not popular among education reformers, particularly those to the center-right. That's because her views on issues such as merit pay vs. teacher tenure are more conventional than even Obama's. So if the President-elect really wants to shake things up on the education front, Darling-Hammond won't likely be his choice.


Current position: CEO of Chicago Public Schools

Why he could be tapped: Like Klein in New York, Duncan has made a name for himself as a reformer in a big city, accomplishments candidate Obama highlighted several times on the campaign trail. He's also a close friend and basketball buddy of the President-elect. And unlike Darling-Hammond, Duncan could represent a more neutral selection.

Why the job will go to someone else: A Duncan nod could risk upsetting Chicago mayor Richard Daley, a vocal advocate of the Chicago schools' chief.


Current position: Former governor of North Carolina

Why he could be tapped: As governor, Hunt focused attention on one of Obama's key schools proposals: expanding early childhood education, especially to low-income and minority children. He also worked hard to improve teacher quality, testing innovations in this area of perpetual struggle for American schools. On the federal level, he recently served on Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

Why the job will go to someone else: Hunt has not been especially outspoken on how to expand charter schools and other alternatives to traditional public schools, which appears to be a priority for the Obama team.


Current position: Arizona's governor

Why she could be tapped: Once considered a contender for Obama's VP slot, Napolitano has signed legislation boosting elementary education in her state, including an initiative to guarantee full-day kindergarten throughout Arizona. She also co-chaired a panel called Renewing Our Schools, Securing Our Future, which in 2005 recommended a $325 billion increase in federal education spending over 10 years.

Why the job will go to someone else: Term limits prohibit Napolitano from running for governor again in 2010, making her a potential — and popular — candidate to vie for Arizona Sen. John McCain's seat in that year's election. She has also been mentioned as a possible pick for Attorney General in the Obama administration.


Current position: Former Secretary of State in the first Bush Administration

Why he could be tapped: Since leaving the State Dept. in 2004, Gen. Powell and his wife Alma founded America's Promise Alliance, a group dedicated to improving the well-being of the country's young people. The non-profit has been especially strong on finding a means to combat the country's dropout crisis. Plus, Powell made a high-profile endorsement of Obama in the final weeks of the campaign.

Why the job will go to someone else: On the day after Obama's Nov. 4 victory, Powell told reporters that he has not been asked nor does he plan to return to government service, preferring to instead leave the new Cabinet open to a younger generation.

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