Arne Duncan

Arne Starkey Duncan[1] was the United States Secretary of Education from 2009 through December 2015.[2][3] While his tenure as Secretary was marked by varying degrees of opposition from both social conservatives and teachers unions, he nevertheless enjoyed strong support from the US president who appointed him, Barack Obama. Conservatives and some parents resisted Duncan's push for all U.S. states to adopt the Common Core Standards to determine what students had learned, and most US teachers unions disliked his emphasis on the use of data from student tests to evaluate teachers and schools.[4] Despite antagonism to the changes Duncan had introduced, Obama praised his work at the Department of Education by saying, "Arne has done more to bring our educational system – sometimes kicking and screaming – into the 21st century than anybody else."[5]

Arne Duncan
9th United States Secretary of Education
In office
January 21, 2009  December 31, 2015
PresidentBarack Obama
DeputyAnthony W. Miller
James H. Shelton III
John King
Preceded byMargaret Spellings
Succeeded byJohn King Jr.
Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools
In office
June 26, 2001  January 21, 2009
Appointed byRichard M. Daley
Preceded byPaul Vallas
Succeeded byRon Huberman
Personal details
Arne Starkey Duncan

Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Karen Leanne Duncan
EducationHarvard University (BA)

Duncan previously served as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2009. He is currently a senior fellow at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy[6] and a board member for Communities In Schools and Community X.

Early years and education

Duncan was raised in Hyde Park, a Chicago neighborhood encompassing the University of Chicago. He is the son of Susan Goodrich (née Morton) and Starkey Davis Duncan Jr. His father was a psychology professor at the university and his mother runs the Sue Duncan Children's Center, an after-school program primarily serving African-American youth in the nearby Kenwood neighborhood.

Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools[7] and later Harvard College, where he played on the basketball team and graduated magna cum laude in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in sociology. His senior thesis, for which he took a year's leave to do research in the Kenwood neighborhood, was entitled "The values, aspirations and opportunities of the urban underclass".[8]

Education career

After graduating, Duncan played professional basketball for several years until 1991. In 1992, childhood friend and investment banker John W. Rogers, Jr., appointed Duncan director of the Ariel Education Initiative, a program mentoring children at one of the city's worst-performing elementary schools and then assisting them as they proceeded further in the education system.[8] After the school closed in 1996, Duncan and Rogers were instrumental in re-opening it as a charter school, Ariel Community Academy.[9] In 1999, Duncan was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.[10]

CEO of Chicago Public Schools

Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Duncan to serve as Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools on June 26, 2001.[11] Opinions vary on Duncan's success as CEO; one prominent publication notes improved test scores and describes Duncan as a consensus builder,[12] while another finds the improvements largely a myth and is troubled by the closing of neighborhood schools and their replacement by charter schools, and what it describes as schools' militarization.[13]

U.S. Secretary of Education

Duncan was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate on January 20, 2009.[14] One of Duncan's initiatives as secretary has been a $4 billion Race to the Top competition. It asks states to vie for federal education dollars by submitting proposals that include reforms such as expanding charter schools and judging teachers partly on how well their students do on standardized tests.[15]

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin condemned the Bush-Kennedy charter schools for Washington, D.C., and Duncan and President Obama got the vouchers eliminated. Speaker of the House Boehner got them restored.

In March 2011, Duncan said 82 percent of the nation's public schools could be failing by the following year under the standards of the No Child Left Behind law. The projection amounted to a startling spike from previous data, which showed that 37 percent of schools were on track to miss targets set by the law. "Four out of five schools in America would not meet their goals under [No Child Left Behind] by next year", Duncan said in his statement.

On July 4, 2014, the National Education Association, the largest teacher's union in the United States, passed a resolution of "no confidence" in Duncan's leadership of the Department of Education and asked for his resignation.[16]

On July 13, 2014, the American Federation of Teachers approved a resolution calling for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to resign if he does not improve under a plan to be implemented by President Barack Obama.[17] The "improvement plan" would require that Secretary Duncan enact the equity and funding recommendations of the Equity Commission's "Each and Every Child" report; revise the No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top "test-and-punish" system of accountability to a "support-and-improve" structure; and "promote rather than question" teachers and school staff.

On October 2, 2015, Duncan announced he would be stepping down at the close of 2015, to be succeeded by John King Jr.[18] The media stated his tenure had been marked by a "willingness to plunge head-on into the heated debate about the government's role in education.".[19]

After the Department of Education

In March 2016, Duncan announced he would join the Palo Alto-based education group Emerson Collective as a managing partner.[20]

His 2018 book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, details his work pushing forward the Common Core standard and discusses examples of students falling far below the education level needed to pursue college that instigated this policy push.[21]

Personal life

While in Australia, Duncan met his future wife, Karen Leanne Duncan,[22] a native of Tasmania.[23] Their children are Claire and Ryan (ages 16 and 13).[24]


While at Harvard, Duncan co-captained the varsity basketball team and was named a first team Academic All-American.[7][25] From 1987 to 1991, Duncan played professional basketball, mostly in Australia, with teams including Melbourne's Eastside Spectres, of Australia's National Basketball League.[26] Duncan also participated in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Games. Comedian Kevin Hart conceded the 2014 MVP of the celebrity game to Duncan (20 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists).[27][28][29] The 20 points are a Celebrity Game high.

On May 11, 2014, Duncan was a member of the 2014 USA Basketball 3x3 Men's Championship Team. The team of Duncan, Jitim Young, Thomas Darrow and Craig Moore qualified to represent the United States in Moscow, Russia in the 24-country 2014 FIBA 3x3 World Championship from June 5–8.[30] Duncan's schedule did not permit him to attend,[31] but the team finished in 9th place in the 24-team tournament.[32]


Addressing a group of school superintendents in late 2013, Arne Duncan stated that he found it "fascinating" that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards Initiative came from "white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't as good as they thought they were."[33] This had sparked outrage among different facets of society, ranging from the "white suburban mom who feel marginalized and misunderstood", the "non-white parent who wants to know why everyone is only now so upset", to the "non-white parent who wants Arne Duncan to know that she (or he) hates the Common Core, too".[34]


  • How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education. Simon & Schuster. 2018. ISBN 978-1-5011-7305-9.


  1. "Chicago Public Schools salaries, February 2009". February 2009. p. 279.
  2. "Arne Duncan, Nonresident Senior Fellow - Brookings Institution". Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  3. "Secretary of Education". U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
  4. Bacon Jr., Perry (January 2, 2016). "How Arne Duncan Reshaped American Education and Made Enemies Along the Way". NBC News. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
  5. "Remarks by the President, Secretary Arne Duncan, and Dr. John King in Personnel Announcement" (Press release). The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. October 2, 2015. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
  6. "Arne Duncan appointed distinguished senior fellow at Harris School of Public Policy" (Press release). University of Chicago News. March 3, 2017. Retrieved January 11, 2018.
  7. Williams, Carla D. (January 10, 1984). "Blue Chip Stock". Archived from the original on December 19, 2008. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  8. "Will Obama's Choice Change Education in America? | Harvard Graduate School of Education". August 17, 2010. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  9. Young, Lauren (March 2002). "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood". SmartMoney. Archived from the original on December 19, 2008. Retrieved December 17, 2008.
  10. "Deputy steps up to schools CEO". Crain's Chicago Business. July 2, 2001.
  11. "Arne Duncan". Chicago Public Schools. 2008. Archived from the original on December 18, 2008.
  12. Kingsbury, Kathleen (December 16, 2008). "Will Arne Duncan Shake Up America's Schools?". Time. Retrieved April 25, 2010.
  13. Brown, Jitu. "Rethinking Schools Online". Archived from the original on March 28, 2010. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  14. "Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education - Biography". Archived from the original on June 15, 2011. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  15. "Bill Gates's college tour". The Washington Post.
  16. Heitin, Liana; Sawchuk, Stephen (July 4, 2014). "NEA Calls for Secretary Duncan's Resignation". Education Week.
  17. Grasgreen, Allie (July 13, 2014). "Another teachers union ding for Arne Duncan". Politico.
  18. Eilperin, Juliet; Lyndsey Layton; Emma Brown (October 2, 2015). "U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to step down at end of year". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  19. "Education Secretary Arne Duncan steps down after 7-year term". Yahoo News. October 2, 2015.
  20. "Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will help dropouts in violence-plagued Chicago find jobs". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 21, 2016.
  21. Heffner, Alexander; Duncan, Arne (October 22, 2018). "Truth and Lies of Education". The Open Mind, Thirteen. Retrieved October 28, 2018.
  22. "Obama". Time. December 2, 2008. Retrieved April 25, 2010.
  23. Rintoul, Stuart (December 18, 2008). "Aussie lessons for Obama's school tsar Arne Duncane". The Australian. Archived from the original on December 2, 2013.
  24. "Education Secretary Duncan's children to go to Chicago private school he attended". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 15, 2011. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  25. Sweet, Lynn (December 15, 2008). "Arne Duncan to be named Obama Education Secretary". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on December 17, 2008.
  26. "Former NBL star for White House team".
  27. "Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game: Arne Duncan's big night leads East to victory". Archived from the original on February 15, 2014. Retrieved January 29, 2014.
  28. Greenberg, Chris (February 24, 2012). "U.S. Secretary Of Education Schools Celebs At Hoops". Huffington Post.
  29. "The Moment: Duncan shines at Celeb Game".
  30. "USA Basketball Men's And Women's 3x3 World Championship Teams Named Following 2014 USA Basketball 3x3 National Championship". USA Basketball. May 11, 2014. Archived from the original on May 12, 2014. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  31. Ellenport, Craig (June 3, 2014). "Passion For The Game: Arne Duncan". USA Basketball. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
  32. "USA Women Take Gold At 2014 FIBA 3x3 World Championship". USA Basketball. June 8, 2014. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
  33. Strauss, Valerie (November 16, 2013). "Arne Duncan: 'White suburban moms' upset that Common Core shows their kids aren't 'brilliant'". The Washington Post.
  34. "3 Types Of People Outraged By Education Boss' 'White Suburban Moms' Comment". Huffington Post. November 18, 2013.
Educational offices
Preceded by
Paul Vallas
Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools
Succeeded by
Ron Huberman
Political offices
Preceded by
Margaret Spellings
United States Secretary of Education
Succeeded by
John King Jr.
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