The real prototype of Obama appointees, though, may be Mr. Duncan, the Chicago schools chief who is to become education secretary. A Harvard graduate, onetime professional basketball player in Australia, and friend of the president-to-be, Mr. Duncan has managed to build a reputation as a school reformer without winning the enmity of the teachers unions that often resist school reforms.
How did he do that? "He's a little bit of a Rorschach figure; you can read into him what you want," says Chester Finn, a conservative education expert who served in the Reagan education department yet praises the Duncan selection. He calls Mr. Duncan a "rounded-edges kind of guy" who has "closed some schools but hasn't had mass layoffs" among teachers. "He's a pragmatist, I guess," Mr. Finn concludes. At this point, at least, that seems an apt description of much of the emerging Team Obama.