Behind the Headline: Arne Duncan Stepping Down, Returning to Chicago

On Top of the News
Arne Duncan Stepping Down, Returning to Chicago
Chicago Tribune | 10/2/15

Behind the Headline
Stradding the Democratic Divide
Education Next | Spring 2009

Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced today that he will step down in December. Katherine Skiba of the Chicago Tribune writes

As secretary, Duncan prioritized K-12 education and made his first signature initiative the Race to the Top program, in which states competed for federal grants. The program became a flashpoint in the fight over federal involvement in education. Critics argued it encouraged states to adopt the Common Core, a controversial set of curriculum guidelines that have become symbolic of federal overreach.


In an article for Education Next that was published early in Duncan’s tenure as secretary, Richard Lee Colvin wrote of Duncan’s confirmation hearing

The warm greetings given by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee reflect Duncan’s reputation as a centrist in the ideologically fraught battles over education reform. He has received national attention for moves favored by reformers, such as opening 75 new schools operated by outside groups and staffed by non-union teachers; introducing a pay-for-performance plan that will eventually be in 40 Chicago schools; and working with organizations, including The New Teacher Project, Teach For America, and New Leaders for New Schools, that recruit talented educators through alternatives to the traditional education-school route. At the same time, Duncan maintained at least a cordial working relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union, and both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) backed his nomination. He supported the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), but also called for dramatic increases in spending to help schools meet the law’s targets, and additional flexibility for districts like his own.

Before Duncan received the nod as President Obama’s education secretary, Colvin notes,

there was great speculation within education circles throughout the fall as to whether the new president would turn out to be a reformer—willing to challenge existing practices and the teachers unions in order to achieve dramatic changes in schools—or play it politically safe by backing programs that brought only marginal changes.

But in his confirmation hearing, Colvin writes, Duncan left little doubt that the administration wants to make systemic changes. For more on Duncan, please read, “Stradding the Democratic Divide,” by Richard Lee Colvin in the Spring 2009 issue of Education Next.

– Education Next

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College