Obama sent a strong message of change Sunday when he named retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, who clashed over Iraq policy with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to oversee veterans' affairs. And he'll send some sort of message—encouraging or discouraging—when he picks his education secretary. That person won't dictate congressional policies or set federal funding levels. He or she will, though, oversee a bureaucracy with great power to establish and enforce priorities that affect how districts operate.
The Bush administration exploited this post not only to help promote crucial No Child Left Behind legislation, but to follow up by making schools more accountable for how well their students do—or don't—learn.
Notice the rhetorical trick here. Shinseki was a respected professional who was pushed out by the Bush administration for giving honest and accurate professional advice that contradicted the fantastic and ideological predictions of political appointees. Predictions that turned out to be disastrous when put into practice.
So if you want to appoint a Shinseki analogue in education, you'd appoint a respected career professional educator to undo the ideological excesses of Bush-era reforms, not the ideologues the Tribune suggests.
This scrappy team of self-styled reformers has controlled the Department of Education for eight years, enjoys unprecedented unified control over almost all of the prominent urban school districts, has ample funding from foundations spilling over with excess monies following a period favoring extreme concentration of wealth, and for whatever it is worth these days, they've got blanket support from newspaper editorial boards. Their challenge is to control the system, as they have done for years now, without owning its failures.
For example, the worst thing that could happen to alternative certification programs would be to become the standard certification programs. "Congratulations, you're now responsible for recruiting, training and certifying 4% of the civilian work force." Good luck with that!