Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama Taps Arne Duncan to Head the Department of Education

Yesterday President-elect Obama announced his pick for Secretary of Education: Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. The Department of Education is charged with primary enforcement of Title IX, so Duncan have enormous influence with respect to policy and enforcement on issues of gender equity in athletics as well as single-sex education.

I haven't been able to find any evidence of Duncan's attitudes about gender equity in athletics, so we'll have to take it on faith that he shares Obama's general support for the law. Perhaps as a former college and professional athlete (basketball), Duncan realizes the value of athletic opportunities and will work to ensure they are available to women on equal terms. Of course, many associated with men's athletics view Title IX as the enemy, so experience as a college athlete doesn't necessarily translate into warm fuzzy feelings about Title IX, let alone a clarity of vision regarding the statute's relationship to men's sports and a willingness to backpedal on compliance loopholes and enforcement malaise. We'll just have to see.

As for single-sex education, it appears that Mr. Duncan has supported sex-segregated charter schools in Chicago. However, his position on sex-segregated education seems rooted more in a recognition of children's diverse learning styles rather than a basic belief that all girls and all boys are the same. Regarding this issue in the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan said, "Some children learn better in a classroom surrounded by all boys or all girls. Some learn better when they can take classroom material and immediately apply it to real-world situations. Other children need a residential school that allows them to better focus on academics. We want to provide all of these education options and more." His position on diverse educational opportunities is so expansive, even supported a controversial proposal (later withdrawn) for public high school in Chicago that would be "deliberately welcoming" of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. So it might be the case that while Duncan supports single-sex classrooms as an option among many, he may have little tolerance for the schools and districts that are trying to replace gender integrated learning altogether. Again, we'll just have to see.