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Obama's can-do education pick

Arne Duncan, Chicago schools chief, improved performance despite tight money.

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Teacher unions and education activists alike give high marks to Barack Obama's nominee for education secretary, Arne Duncan. They praise the chief of Chicago public schools for his pragmatism, diplomacy, and, most of all, his record. But here's another reason to cheer: He improved student achievement despite money constraints.

That's important because America's federal budget is under enormous strain, especially with another economic bailout coming.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Obama dreamed big and expensive: $10 billion for early childhood ed; more federal money to help states increase school hours and days; funds to recruit "an army of new teachers" with higher salaries.

Meanwhile, states are demanding more dollars from Washington to implement the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, the controversial standards mandate that is up for congressional renewal.

There's no sounder investment America can make than in education, and some of Obama's ideas are ones that states can try without federal aid. But here's a trick question that educators and taxpayers often miss: Does better learning depend heavily on more money?

When it comes to education reform, "most of what money buys you is a little less political opposition to your change strategy," says Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust, a research and advocacy group working to improve learning through higher standards.

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