The very tall man who will be Barack Obama's education secretary.
The very tall man who will be Obama's education secretary. (Via Flickr)

The New York Times’ Sam Dillon reports that Arne Duncan will be the next secretary of education. The president-elect is to announce tomorrow. Obama sources do not disclose to Dillon what Duncan will do about No Child Left Behind, testing, teacher quality, or tenure. And the mystery stays alive!

An easier-to-unwrap question I’d like to look into: Was Joel Klein ever actually in the running?

UPDATE: More context by request. Duncan, the schools chief in Chicago, is a safe choice that signals only what we had already been told, that when faced with all-out policy brawls, Obama would prefer not to pick a side. In the ongoing, raging war over education policy, Duncan had the stamp of both sides, the nameless reformers (idealocrat reformers?) and the teachers unions, or at least of Randi Weingarten, the union leader. By choosing Duncan as his education figurehead, Obama has avoided two wars.

Choosing Joel Klein of New York would have started a war with harder-line union members, and with Randi Weingarten, as well as with many academics who disagree with Klein’s methods. At the same time, choosing those academics’ preferred choice, Linda Darling-Hammond, would have been a virtual declaration of war against Teach For America and its increasingly powerful alumni network (which includes some Obama fundraisers). The organization believes that Darling-Hammond opposes its agenda and “reform” in general.

Now, all eyes will turn to the spots below Duncan, who is seen as a blank slate in terms of ideology or vision. Indeed, he hasn’t done much publicly to indicate where he stands in the Democratic Party’s education wars. He signed the petitions issued by both camps. In Chicago, he took on projects that are popular in urban districts across the country, opening new charter schools and many new small high schools, too. He received some criticism for not working closely enough with the community, but managed not to make enemies of the teachers unions, as Klein has done in New York.

In other words, he flies under the radar, and his next steps will be hard to predict. That means that who fills the positions beneath him in the education department will be crucial. Will Jon Schnur, namesake of the nameless reform movement, be named Duncan’s deputy, as the Democrats for Education Reform group wants? Or will Darling-Hammond, who led Obama’s transition team on education policy and was boosted by a petition with a shockingly long list of names? These appointments could determine the Obama administration’s direction on the unknown issues I mentioned above — No Child Left Behind, testing, teacher quality, and tenure. Until they are made, we still live in the mystery zone.