January 13, 2009


E-mails have been making the rounds among some educational advocates and researchers, stating rumors that Andrew Rotherham (Education Sector), Wendy Kopp (Teach for America), and Russlyn Ali (Education Trust) were being considered for sub-cabinet posts under Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan, and asking that recipients contact the transition personnel office to object to such appointments. While I haven't seen any e-mail traffic with rumors about the posts for Rotherham or Kopp, Ali supposedly is in line for the Office of Civil Rights inside the USDOE.

First things first: I took a stand against the vitriol directed at Linda Darling-Hammond last month, explaining that on principle I am opposed to ad hominem attacks. My philosophy hasn't changed in the last two months. Has yours?

Second: not only are ad hominem attacks wrong on principle, they are also foolish politics unless you can point to a smoking gun about fitness to serve. Unless policy differences rise to the level of potential criminality (and none of those individuals come close to John Yoo on that scale), policy differences are not going to be a convincing reason to a transition personnel office. Duncan probably knows the policy positions of Rotherham, Kopp, and Ali. Does he also know that by making certain appointments he's going to upset associate and full professors at Directional State University or even Real and Not Facade Brick Private University? While I wish I had greater sway over policy, I suspect pleasing or displeasing me is not high on his concern list at the moment.

Third: the slamming of all three individuals makes little sense from a standpoint of using political capital shrewdly. Assume for a moment that Russlyn Ali is headed to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Is there any reason to believe that the responsibilities of an appointee at OCR would cover the high-stakes accountability issues that presumably people might disagree with Ali on? So if this rumor happens to pan out, Ali's appointment to OCR would remove her from most issues that put her name in that e-mail. 

When I began writing this entry, I wasn't not sure whether to be angry or sad at this latest sandbox fight. It's turned to disappointment. Those who look at the Obama transition years from now will admire Obama's ability to appoint people with gravitas in the headline Cabinet posts and then wonder why the Department of Education appointments were the focus of so much gossip and backstabbing.

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Tags: Andrew Rotherham, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, education politics, Education Trust, Eduwonk, Russlyn Ali, Wendy Kopp
Posted in Education policy on January 13, 2009 10:17 PM |