Arne Duncan resigns as U.S. secretary of education. What is his legacy?

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is giving up his high-level and influential post in December to join his family already back home living in Chicago.

Arne Duncan steps down as U.S. secretary of education.

Arne Duncan steps down as U.S. secretary of education. (AJC File Photo.)

Later today, President Obama is expected to appoint Deputy Secretary John King Jr. to take Duncan’s place.

After six years in Washington, Duncan’s wife and two children recently already moved back to their hometown of Chicago, where the secretary grew up and where, as the leader of the Chicago public schools, he met Obama.

But Duncan had promised he would remain in Washington to finish his tenure at the U.S. Department of Education and commute home every weekend. He apparently decided to give up that plan.

In an email to his staff, Duncan said, “Serving the President in the work of expanding opportunity for students throughout this country has been the greatest honor of my life. Doing so alongside people of the brilliance, ability and moral conviction of the team here at ED has been nothing short of thrilling. We have been lucky to have an amazing team here from Day One, but I honestly believe our team today is the strongest it’s ever been. So it’s with real sadness that have come to recognize that being apart from my family has become too much of a strain, and it is time for me to step aside and give a new leader a chance. I haven’t talked with anyone about what I’ll do next, and probably won’t for a little while – I’m simply returning to Chicago to live with my family. I imagine my next steps will continue to involve the work of expanding opportunity for children, but I have no idea what that will look like yet.”

His own personal drive coupled with an intense national focus on education turned Duncan into a well-known, if sometimes polarizing, figure.

Duncan oversaw the Race to the Top education reform grants, one of which was awarded to Georgia and spurred dramatic changes in how teachers and principals are evaluated.

Duncan also became a vocal supporter of Common Core State Standards, so much so that the standards were derided as a federal mandate even though the effort originated with the nation’s governors, including Georgia’s Sonny Perdue, and adoption was voluntary.

The peripatetic Duncan was often in Georgia and I had a chance several times over the years to chat with him. (He also did almost weekly media calls.)

Among his comments to me while in Atlanta:

On role of money in education:  “You can have all the money in the world, but it won’t make a difference if teachers don’t believe their students can learn.”

On whether poor kids can learn to high levels: “Every child can learn and thrive despite poverty, despite problems at home, despite neighborhood violence.”

On Race to the Top:  “It is not enough to make the same investment in the same programs. We are not going to reward the status quo.”

On the role of the federal government in ed reform: “The great ideas in education are never going to come from Washington.”

On teachers: “I think teachers are underpaid and undervalued in our country today.”

On children of undocumented immigrants: “In this economy, we need everyone trained and prepared. These children were brought here by their parents, often as infants without making any choice of their own.”

Working with the president, Duncan certainly put education on the front page. But what is his lasting legacy?

As I get official statements on Duncan’s departure, I will post:

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities wishes Secretary Arne Duncan well as he announces his impending departure from the Department of Education. Secretary Duncan can and should be proud of the administration’s overhaul of the antiquated guaranteed student loan system and of its successful conversion to 100 percent direct lending. He also deserves credit for advocating that savings from the direct loan program should be used to expand grant funding for needy students. We would also like to commend Secretary Duncan for the attention he has brought to issues of waste, fraud and abuse; we look forward to working with the administration to ensure that the initiatives started under his tenure come to fruition.

Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) President and CEO J. Noah Brown:

“During Secretary Duncan’s tenure, the nation’s community colleges have faced unprecedented demand to meet the needs of more than 12 million American students each year, and have attained an unprecedented level of public esteem. Working hand in hand with President Barack Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and other community college supporters, Secretary Duncan’s legacy will reflect a community college renaissance for which all community college leaders, faculty, staff, and especially students are grateful – and from which the country will benefit for generations to come. We look forward to working closely with Deputy Secretary King to continue the momentum of meeting our commitment to open-access higher education for all while continuing to raise standards of success for both our colleges and our students.”

 

Reader Comments 0

31 comments
Jimmy Dore
Jimmy Dore

 Arnie Duncan spent  ZERO YEARS IN CLASSROOM. And it showed. He had no ideas on how to teach kids, just schemes on testing them to death. 


ANother failed teacher who wants to privatize public education and hand over tax payer money to private corpartions in the name of helping children. 

These people truly suck and are not educators.

Enoch19
Enoch19

Everybody that cares about education for children is an enemy of the teacher's unions.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

Duncan was one of the most progressive Education Secretaries we have ever had.   It will take time before we can truly say what his legacy will be.    The Common Core standards may be something our country truly needs, but is emblematic of the continuous struggle between state-driven Jeffersonian and federal-driven Hamiltonian philosophies.   It is very hard to push a federal agenda in our republic, and the backlash that has occurred from federal reforms such as Race to the Top and Common Core as well as the increasing influence of prominent private foundations should not be surprising to historians.   The implementation process was not a smooth one and I think in hindsight, a stronger coalition of support should have been built before rollout.   The research that Duncan's team has done along with key task forces has been invaluable to the reform effort.   The vision is there.   The execution needs improvement.


Many of Duncan's reforms were sorely needed.   Adding more accountability into the system was an important initiative.   And change doesn't come easy in a system that hasn't been changed in more than a century.    Only time will tell whether or not these reforms resulted in improvement in academic achievement.   Right now, the path is bumpy.   Educator morale is low, but how much of that is a result of Duncan's administration compared to the individual states?


Legacies need time to formulate.   Give it 5-10 years before initial perspectives on his legacy can be validated.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@living-in-outdated-ed 

The humility which Arne Duncan felt and showed in his comments and actions in today's press conference was authentic, deeply felt, and impacting to all who were present. He received laudatory remarks from President Obama, incoming Secretary of Education John King, and a long, standing ovation from the White House Press Corps.

Lawrence Henson
Lawrence Henson

@living-in-outdated-ed Execution of hitler's progressivism? That's the crap Arnie, Obama. and the haters of America want to "teach". Get the illegal fed influence OUT of our schools.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I watched the entire press conference with President Obama in which he complimented the past and present Secretary of Education, discussed the Syrian situation including how his approach differs from that of Putin, discussed gun control in light of the shooting in Oregon, expanded upon the value of Pope Francis to the world.


This was an outstanding press conference conducted by an outstanding president at the height of his abilities and insight.


I encourage all who missed this press conference, of well over an hour, to listen to it in full.  There is a balance and a deep maturity and wisdom that he will offer regarding domestic and foreign policies to all who have minds and hearts open enough to receive what he has to offer.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

@MaryElizabethSings To be perfectly honest, I think your enormous EGO has gotten in the way of your thinking logically on any subject.  I, for one, don't need your critiques.  Since i obviously can read and write, although I may not be up to your standards, I am perfectly capable.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Basically, he tossed a bunch of taxpayer money around and didn't accomplish much.  His successor will spend a couple of years undoing and introducing new programs, and then bail before they fall flat, and then a new person will come in and........... 

Lather, rinse, repeat, over and over and over and over again.  Such is life as a government bureaucrat.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Have never thought much of Duncan.  I think he is overlooks a lot of reality.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Given his comments to Maureen, it sure looks like Duncan and Obama parted ways due to differing opinions.

I liked the guy.

Duncan sounded more like GWB...no longer willing to suffer the soft bigotry of low expectations. 

Lawrence Henson
Lawrence Henson

@FIGMO2 the obamination's best buddy Professor Bill Ayres wanted to destroy America faster with Common Core....  Now in 46 States. Common Core's ""Board of Govenor's" was NEVER State Govenors = another libtard misuse of words.

straker
straker

I'd say one social experiment too many got the best of him.

Jimmy Dore
Jimmy Dore

@Astropig when you say teaches unions, you mean people dedicated to teaching children knew he was not en educator and was nothing more than a corporate tool that moved tax payer money to private corporations who "teach" kids for profit. 


He was never a teacher, and now his legacy is more testing, more private schools,  and more FAILURE. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

" We are not going to reward the status quo.”

I guess his use of this code word means he is a conservative Republican. Who knew?

ProHumanitate
ProHumanitate

@class80olddog

A check on political definitions would be in order here. "Conservatives" are those who do NOT seek to change the status quo. They are those who want to maintain the traditional or existing order. "Progressives" are those who do want to see change or progression.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Time for the President's press conference on Duncan's leaving is 3:30 p.m. ET.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Note to readers:  President Obama is scheduled to have a press conference this afternoon to make this announcement about Secy. Arne Duncan's leaving the DOE in December.  President Obama is also expected to answer press questions regarding the Oregon shooting (and perhaps other issues).

Niobe
Niobe

Ever notice how education reforms and reformers are invariably labeled "polarizing" in the liberal media?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Niobe Don't think anyone would say Duncan wasn't polarizing. He has both ardent fans and foes, a consequence of leading during a time of great change. 

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@MaureenDowney

Or perhaps a consequence of misleading during the time of a great manufactured crisis?


A manufactured crisis to be continued with John King misleading?

Jimmy Dore
Jimmy Dore

@class80olddog @EdJohnson @MaureenDowney oh you must be one of those people that can't see their own nose on their face. That means you're dumb and easily duped by the man from the corporation that says he wants to help kids. 

dg417s
dg417s

Glory glory hallelujah! Maybe we can get the focus of schools back on actually teaching our children.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@dg417s

Two words to disabuse you of that we.., ah, pipe dream: John King, Jr.  Well, three words.

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s


King has already had his big run in with teachers unions - ww.legislativegazette.com/Articles-Top-Stories-c-2014-02-10-86716.113122-NYSUT-is-asking-for-commissioner-Kings-resignation.html


With any luck at all, he and the unions will go to war and immobilize one another in pointless conflict,while real progress is made by people out in the states and counties toward meaningful reform. Love to see our enemies bicker. Love it.