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Chicago Schools Chief Is Obama Education Pick

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Another day, another Cabinet announcement from President-elect Barack Obama. This time it was the education secretary. Mr. Obama is nominating the head of the Chicago school system, Arne Duncan. In reaching out to Duncan, the president-elect chose a friend and a Chicago neighbor. Duncan shares Mr. Obama's belief in the importance of education and his love of basketball. NPR's Brian Naylor reports from Chicago.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The president-elect named his choice of Duncan in the gym of the Dodge Renaissance Academy, a Chicago elementary school and a symbol of Duncan's efforts to overhaul the nation's third-largest school system. Duncan ordered the school closed down and then reopened it with new teachers and a new curriculum. That led to higher test scores. Mr. Obama said that there is a need to raise expectations for education throughout the nation.

BARACK OBAMA: We're not going to transform every school overnight. And there are some school systems - not just big city school systems - there are rural schools and suburban schools that just aren't up to snuff. But what we can expect is that each and every day, we are thinking of new, innovative ways to make the schools better.

NAYLOR: Making the economy better is already occupying much of the president-elect's time. He met with his economic advisers as the Federal Reserve lowered interest rates yet again in an effort to loosen credit and spur lending. Mr. Obama said it was not wise for him to comment directly on the actions of the independent Fed, but he said it's clear that more needs to be done.

OBAMA: We are running out of the traditional ammunition that's used in a recession, which is to lower interest rates. They're getting to be about as low as they can go. And although the Fed is still going to have more tools available to it, it is critical that the other branches of government step up, and that's why the economic recovery plan is so absolutely critical.

NAYLOR: Mr. Obama has promised an economic stimulus program that would set in motion what he calls shovel-ready projects, and restated his aim today of creating two and a half million new jobs. But he turned the focus back to education, saying better schools were a key to any economic revival.

OBAMA: If we can get young people focused on education, if we can change our cultures so that we are once again valuing intellectual achievement, and if we are willing to all pull together around making our schools better, that's going to be the single biggest determinant in terms of how our economy does long-term.

NAYLOR: The president-elect was asked by reporters again about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who's been charged with, among other things, conspiracy to sell Mr. Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. The state Legislature has taken a first step towards impeachment of the governor, and there have been calls for a special election to fill the Obama vacancy. But the president-elect refused to weigh in on the matter.

OBAMA: I've said that I don't think the governor can serve effectively in his office. I'm going to let the state Legislature make a determination in terms of how they want to proceed.

NAYLOR: The president-elect was also asked about his pledge to appoint Republicans to his Cabinet. So far, the only Republican named has been Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration. Mr. Obama said there were more appointments to make. It's widely expected he will nominate Democratic Senator Ken Salazar from Colorado as secretary of interior, a choice that could be announced tomorrow. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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