At the New Republic, Seward Darby worries that Obama's choice for the head of his transition's education-policy team means he's not serious about shaking up the educational system:
In November, Barack Obama bewildered education reformers by tapping Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor who had advised his campaign, to oversee the transition's education policy team. Their verdict was swift and harsh. "Worst case scenario," wrote Mike Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, the day after The Wall Street Journal leaked the news. "This is a sign that the president-elect isn't a bona fide reformer," he later told me. Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, confirmed, "The reform community is scared to death."
The "reform community" is an aggressive group of education advocates who argue that the certification programs which produce teachers, and the unions that represent them once they're in the classroom, have had too tight a grip on progressive priorities in the field for too long. Instead, they want to shake up the system through programs that bring in new blood and hold teachers accountable. They place their hopes in nervy, pioneering leaders like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, the chancellors of the D.C. and New York City public schools, respectively. In Darling-Hammond--an academic, union favorite, and vocal critic of Teach for America and No Child Left Behind--they see the opposite: an ideological enemy representative of a sluggish status quo.
Reformers are right to be nervous. During the campaign, Obama deftly appeased all sides of the policy debate. While appealing to the unions, which have long been bastions of Democratic support, he also gave great hope to reformers inside and outside the party by supporting merit pay and pledging to increase funding for charter schools. In asking Darling-Hammond to helm the transition--a precursor, some worry, to her appointment as secretary of education--Obama has suggested that he wasn't entirely serious about change, at least when it comes to education. It's a misstep that threatens to derail his quest for post-partisanship--and ruin a critical opportunity to revolutionize America's lagging schools.