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Education Reformers Get A Lobbying Lesson

In an article this week, I discuss Linda Darling-Hammond's leadership of Obama's education policy team and how the Stanford professor's role is upsetting many in the education reform community, which has aggressive views about how to improve schools. Today, a leading member of that community explained how reformers are pressing (or, at least, trying to press) the incoming administration to select one of their own as secretary of education. As it turns out, they're not very good at it. Since many reformers got into teaching, research, or other education jobs without plans help elevate people to government posts, they're novices when it comes to the nuances of lobbying.

"This is a disparate, not united, effort," says the source, citing about a dozen noteworthy education experts seeking to weigh in on the decision. They include Michelle Rhee, chancellor of D.C. public schools; Tim Daly, president of The New Teacher Project, which Rhee founded; several academics who dispute Darling-Hammond's research methods; and even Obama insiders Michael Johnston, a school principal, and Jon Schnur, who is helping the transition review the Department of Education. Others are being more discreet because they don't want to threaten the standing of their organizations by falling on one side of the education debate before Obama has made a secretary selection. However, the source continues, "No one really knows an effective way to reach the Obama team other than through the press," and adds that an Obama insider said recently that the major decision-makers on the education pick will be the usual suspects: Emanuel, Jarrett, Rouse, Gips, and Axelrod. The Obama campaign didn't respond to a request for comment while I was writing my article.

As Joe Williams, president of Democrats for Education Reform, recently told me, "A lot of these [reform] groups tend to be very positive, progressive, liberal do-gooder type groups, and the idea of publicly saying negative things about people isn't a part of their playbook. So there are a lot of questions about how this should be handled. They aren't political beasts." Still, there is a general consensus among them about the ideal secretary candidate. My source tells me that many reformers are supporting Arne Duncan, head of Chicago's public schools and an old friend of Obama's. Democrats for Education Reform circulated a memo three days after the election pushing for Duncan, who isn't as controversial as someone like Rhee. "Duncan has credibility with various factions in the education policy debate and would allow President Obama to avoid publicly choosing sides in that debate in his most high-profile education nomination," the memo says. (Indeed, Duncan signed both of two dueling education manifestos earlier this year--one backed by Linda Darling-Hammond and other, more old-school experts and another endorsed by reformers.)

paying a visit

Seyward Darby