Arne Duncan

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Arne Duncan
U.S. Secretary of Education
Elections and appointments
NominatedDecember 15, 2008
ConfirmedJanuary 20, 2009
Appointed byBarack Obama
Prior offices
C.E.O. Chicago Public Schools
High schoolUniversity of Chicago Laboratory School
Bachelor'sHarvard University
Date of birthNovember 6, 1964
Place of birthChicago, IL
ProfessionEducation Administration
Office website
Arne Duncan (b. November 6, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois) is the current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. He was nominated on December 15, 2008, by then President-elect Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate on January 20, 2009, the day of President Obama's Inauguration.[1][2]

Before his appointment, Duncan served as C.E.O. of Chicago Public Schools.[3] During his time as C.E.O., Duncan closed under-performing schools while expanding access to after school programs, charter schools and other public-private education initiatives. Duncan is seen as a pragmatist and bridge between pro-union supporters of traditional public schools and the reform minded school-choice movement.[4]

Prior to his work with the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan directed the Ariel Education Initiative, which provided scholarships to inner-city children attending college.[5]


Duncan was born and raised in Hyde Park, Chicago, Illinois. His father was a psychology lecturer at the University of Chicago, and his mother ran an after school center. Duncan cites his early years at the Sue Duncan Children's Center as having a significant impact on his educational outlook.[6]

Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School and then Harvard University, where he majored in sociology and played basketball.[4]


Below is an abbreviated outline of Duncan's academic, professional and political career:[6][4]

  • 1992-1998: With his sister, helped run Ariel Education Initiative on Chicago's South Side
  • 1998-2001: Deputy to Chicago Public Schools C.E.O Paul Vallas and head of the systems' magnet programs
  • 2001-2008: C.E.O. Chicago Public Schools
  • 2009-Present: U.S. Secretary of Education

Confirmation vote

Duncan was confirmed by voice vote on January 20, 2009, by members of the United States Senate.[7] He took over the position from Margaret Spellings of the George W. Bush administration.

Secretary of Education term initiatives

Race to the Top

See also: Race to the Top

Race to the Top was the seminal policy of Duncan's Department of Education. It was a reform designed to induce competition among states and school districts for federally allocated grants. Duncan argued that the incentive to attain Federal grant money and the resulting competition would spur innovation and improve student achievement. The program was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and had an initial budget of $4.35 billion. To become eligible, states needed to satisfy a "Common Core" of achievement standards. States proposed sweeping reform objectives and then submit grant proposals for programs they believe would achieve the objectives outlined. Proposals were measured against a scoring criteria, and grants were awarded. The Department of Education then measured states' progress towards their target objectives as the grant renewal process proceeded. Several states were unable to meet proposed targets in Race to the Top funded programs. As a result, grant allocation slowed significantly after three initial rounds. In 2012, the Department of Education began a new grant allocation round-- Race to the Top-District-- in which school districts, rather than state school systems, may apply for Race to the Top program grants.[8]

Common Core

See also: Common Core State Standards Initiative
Education policy logo.jpg

Education policy in the U.S.
Public education in the U.S.
School choice in the U.S.
Charter schools in the U.S.
Higher education in the U.S.
State public education information
Higher education by state
Glossary of education terms
Education statistics
See also

The Race to the Top Common Core Standards were developed by the National Association of Governors and the Council of Chief State School Officers. They were "informed by the highest, most effective models from states across the country and countries around the world and provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn" in order to "provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce." Forty-five states and the District of Columbia, along with four territories, adopted Common Core Standards. Developed specifically for English Language Arts and Mathematics instruction, "the Standards are (1) research and evidence based, (2) aligned with college and work expectations, (3) rigorous, and (4) internationally benchmarked."[9]

Grant criteria

Grants are rewarded based on these scores and subsequent rankings:[10]

  • A. State Success Factors (125 points)
    • (A)(1) Articulating State’s education reform agenda and LEAs’ participation in it (65 points)
    • (A)(2) Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain proposed plans (30 points)
    • (A)(3) Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps (30 points)
  • B. Standards and Assessments (70 points)
    • (B)(1) Developing and adopting common standards (40 points)
    • (B)(2) Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments (10 points)
    • (B)(3) Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments (20 points)
  • C. Data Systems to Support Instruction (47 points)
    • (C)(1) Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system (24 points)
    • (C)(2) Accessing and using State data (5 points)
    • (C)(3) Using data to improve instruction (18 points)
  • D. Great Teachers and Leaders (138 points)
    • (D)(1) Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals (21 points)
    • (D)(2) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance (58 points)
    • (D)(3) Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals (25 points)
    • (D)(4) Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs (14 points)
    • (D)(5) Providing effective support to teachers and principals (20 points)
  • E. Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (50 points)
    • (E)(1) Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAs (10 points)
    • (E)(2) Turning around the lowest-achieving schools (40 points)
  • F. General Selection Criteria (55 points)
    • (F)(1) Making education funding a priority (10 points)
    • (F)(2) Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charters and other innovative schools (40 points)
    • (F)(3) Demonstrating other significant reform conditions (5 points)


The goals of the Race to the Top reforms were:[10]

  • to use data to inform instruction
  • to raise achievement standards and graduation rates
  • to turn around historically low-performing schools
  • to improve teacher and principal quality.

Opposing viewpoints

  • Critics argued that the Race to the Top funding model would take resources from already struggling school systems and create vast disparities in achievement. Supporters maintained that only a "small but significant" portion of Race to the Top funds would go to states with the "best, homegrown plans for education reform," and that absent these incentives, the status-quo Federal funding model would continue to fail students by ignoring innovation.[11]
  • Other opponents questioned whether these reforms could adequately induce innovation. They saw Race to the Top as evidence of "cartel federalism" in line with the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind policy. They did not believe reform would be achieved by further centralization of standards because “the ends of the educational system are still set by the same small group of officials, who are protected from competition.”[12]

Supporting viewpoints

  • American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten supported Race to the Top, but in May of 2013, she called for a moratorium on full implementation:[13]
Done right, Common Core standards will 'lead to a revolution in teaching and learning' that puts critical thinking, problem solving and teamwork ahead of rote memorization and endless test-taking, Weingarten said. Done wrong, 'they will end up in the overflowing dustbin of abandoned reforms, with people throwing up their hands, believing that public schools are too broken to save.[14]
  • Supporters also pointed out that Race to the Top incentivized states to design and pursue serious reforms before any money was handed out. The competition for potential grants induced reforms to improve instruction in both quality and kind across the board, not just among states who ultimately receive grants.[15]


Race to the Top grants recipients were announced in three initial rounds.[16][17] [18]

Race to the Top grant allocations slowed significantly after the first three rounds as many states faced delayed implementation of promised reforms.[19]

In 2012, the Department of Education announced a new round of grant allocation -- Race to the Top-District -- in which individual school districts and charter school programs would be eligible for grants. Sixteen grant winners were selected in 2012. A second round of Race to the Top-District grants will be allocated, and in October 2013, 16 finalists for were announced.[20][21]



Executive Departments of the United States

Executive Departments
Department of DefenseDepartment of StateDepartment of Homeland SecurityDepartment of JusticeDepartment of CommerceDepartment of EducationDepartment of the TreasuryDepartment of AgricultureDepartment of EnergyDepartment of LaborDepartment of TransportationDepartment of the InteriorDepartment of Health and Human ServicesDepartment of Veterans AffairsDepartment of Housing and Urban Development

Department Secretaries
Ashton CarterJohn KerryJeh JohnsonEric HolderPenny PritzkerArne DuncanJack LewTom VilsackErnest MonizTom PerezAnthony FoxxSally JewellSylvia Mathews BurwellRobert McDonaldJulian Castro
Despite 45 states and four territories formally adopting Race to the Top's Common Core, public backlash against the new standards became a frequent occurance. On September 19, 2013, a group of parents in California protested the state's adoption of Common Core when Duncan visited their city.[22] Duncan later drew criticism in November 2013 when he described the opposition to Common Core as "white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were," to a group of state school superintendents.[23] On November 18, 2013, parents in South Carolina and New York chose to keep their children home from school as part of a "National Common Core Protest Day" to demonstrate opposition to Common Core's "one-size-fits all curriculum" and standardized testing methods.[24][25] On December 8, 2013, the Buffalo Teachers Federation protested outside the residence of a state education regent in response to Common Core implementation and its emphasis on continually testing students.[26]

In response to the public outcry, several states delayed implementation or rescinded adoption of the standards entirely. The Alabama state school board voted to revoke their agreement to adhere to the Common Core standards on November 14, 2013. However, their existing state standards were still in line with Common Core.[27] Alabama is the only state to pull away entirely from its commitment to the Common Core standards. However, others such as Pennsylvania and Indiana have chosen to halt implementation.[28][29] Louisiana chose to delay Common Core's accountability measures for two years, while Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Georgia and Michigan chose to delay or abandon Common Core testing.[30][31][32][33][34]

Additionally, both Utah and Florida withdrew from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced Assessment consortium, although both states plan to continue Common Core implementation.[35][36] In Ohio, Representative Andrew Thompson introduced House Bill 237 to the Ohio House of Representatives in order to prevent the state from implementing Common Core.[37]

Education in the 50 states


Union calls for resignation

A July 4, 2014 vote by members of the National Education Association called for Duncan's resignation. A majority of the 9,000 delegates attending the convention in Denver, Colorado made the vote because "the Department's failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores." The vote originated from the California Teachers Association after Duncan commented on the court case Vergara v. California, which dealt a blow to tenure rules in the state. Motions calling for Duncan's resignation have been raised at each of the NEA's annual meetings since 2010, but none had received the majority vote for passage.[38] Then-NEA President Dennis Van Roekel defended the vote, claiming the union would continue to push the administration to put forward policies "that are influenced by those who know best— educators working in our classrooms and in our schools — rather than profiteers." When asked to for Duncan's comments on the vote, a department spokesperson stated, "Secretary Duncan looks forward to continuing to work with NEA and its new leadership."[39]

Another union, the American Federation of Teachers, passed a resolution on July 13, 2014, calling for Duncan's resignation if he didn't show improvement under a plan proposed by President Obama. The resolution urged the department to move away from No Child Left Behind Act and Race to the Top's "test-and-punish" tactics to move toward a system of supporting teachers and students. AFT President Randi Weingarten claimed the vote represented the union saying, "'Enough is enough.' Teachers are evaluated and their future livelihoods are linked to that. And when they fall short, they should have a chance to improve. And that’s what this special order represents." A department spokesperson said of the vote, "the transformation that educators and policymakers are leading to prepare all students for college and careers is incredibly difficult, and too often the adults fight about how to best help the kids."[40]

College loan rates

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Education will make $127 billion in profit from higher education student loans. Higher rates were expected to begin with the 2015-2016 academic year.[41] Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argued, "It’s actually neither accurate nor fair to characterize the student loan program as making a profit," in July 2013, claiming the funds are used to lower the department's cost to taxpayers.[42][41]

Racial inequality patterns

The department's Office for Civil Rights conducted research on all 97,000 public schools in the United States and discovered several racial disparities ranging from preschool through high school.[43] According to the study the following findings were made:

  • Access to preschool. About 40% of public school districts do not offer preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.
  • Suspension of preschool children. Black students represent 18% of preschool enrollment but 42% of students suspended once, and 48% of the students suspended more than once.
  • Access to advanced courses. Eighty-one percent (81%) of Asian-American high school students and 71% of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, less than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high school. Black students (57%), Latino students (67%), students with disabilities (63%), and English language learner students (65%) also have less access to the full range of courses.
  • Access to college counselors. Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor; in Florida and Minnesota, more than two in five students lack access to a school counselor.
  • Retention of English learners in high school. English learners make up 5% of high school enrollment but 11% of high school students held back each year.[14]

—U.S. Department of Education[44]

In President Barack Obama's 2015 budget request, a new $300 million competition was added to the Race to the Top program rewarding schools using data-driven and creative solutions to improve their failing status.[43] Arne Duncan commented on the study's findings, stating, "In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed."[45]

Department budget

U.S. Department of Education[46] Annual Budget
YearBudget (in billions)% Difference from previous year
  • Note: 2014 only represents the Department's budget request, not an enacted budget.


After graduating from Harvard in 1987, Duncan had a tryout with the Boston Celtics. He was eventually cut from the team. He went on to play professionally in the Australian National Basketball League from 1987 until 1991. Duncan met his wife Karen while playing professional basketball in Tasmania.[4]

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See also

External links

Political Tracker has an article on:
Arne Duncan


  1. New York Times, "The New Team," accessed December 3, 2013
  2. New York Times, "School's Chief from Chicago is Cabinet Pick," December 15, 2008
  3. The White House Blog, "Secretary Arne Duncan," accessed December 3, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Washington Post, "Arne Duncan, Secretary of Eduction," accessed December 3, 2013
  5. U.S. Department of Education, "Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education—Biography," accessed December 3, 2013
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chicago Sun-Times, "Duncan's past rooted in education," June 27, 2000
  7. L.A. Times, "Senate quickly confirms 6 Obama Cabinet choices," January 21, 2009
  8. Huffington Post, "Race To The Top For Districts Piques Interest Of Chicago And Los Angeles Mayors," March 3, 2012
  9. Common Core State Standards Initiative, "About the Standards," accessed December 10, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1, "Race to the Top Executive Summary," accessed December 10, 2013
  11. NPR, "The New Republic: Defending Obama's Education Plan," July 29, 2010
  12. FEE, "Common Core: A Tocquevillean Education or Cartel Federalism?," May 14, 2013
  13. AFT, "AFT calls for moratorium on Common Core consequences," May 1, 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  15. Christian Science Monitor, "As Race to the Top competition intensifies, so do education reforms," July 27, 2010
  16., "Delaware and Tennessee Win First Race to The Top Grants," accessed December 10, 2013
  17., "Nine States and the District of Columbia Win Second Round Race to the Top Grants," August 24, 2010
  18., "Department of Education Awards $200 Million to Seven States to Advance K-12 Reform," December 23, 2011
  19. Huffington Post, "Race To The Top State Reports: New York, Florida, Hawaii Backtracked On Reform Commitments," Jauary 10, 2012
  20., "2012 Race to the Top—District Awards, Grantee Applications, Peer Reviewer Scores and Comments," accessed December 10, 2013
  21., "Race to the Top- District," December 23, 2011
  22. Susan Luzarro, San Diego Reader, "Chula Vista parents protest switch to Common Core State Standards," September 19, 2013
  23. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, "Arne Duncan: ‘White suburban moms’ upset that Common Core shows their kids aren’t ‘brilliant’," November 16, 2013
  24. Allie Bidwell, U.S. News, "South Carolina Parents Remove Children From School to Protest Common Core," November 18, 2013
  25. Diane C. Lore, Staten Island Advance, "Some Staten Island parents planning to keep their children home from school Monday for National Common Core Protest Day," November 15, 2013
  26. Denise Jewell Gee, The Buffalo News, "BTF, parents picket Regent’s home in protest over state standards, tests," December 8, 2013
  27., "Common Core: Alabama votes to distance itself from controversial standards (week in review)," November 16, 2013
  28. The Patriot-News, "Corbett orders delay in Common Core academic standards' implementation," May 21, 2013
  29. Indiana Public Media, "House Bill 1427: What 'Pausing' The Common Core Means For Indiana Schools," accessed December 10, 2013
  30. The Times Picayune, "Louisiana announces major changes to how students, schools held accountable under Common Core," November 21, 2013
  31. Education Week, "Two-Year Transition to Common-Core Tests Approved in Massachusetts," November 19, 2013
  32. Education Week, "Tech Challenges Lead Oklahoma to Opt Out of PARCC Exams," July 3, 2013
  33. Heartland, "Common Core Testing Costs Increase; Georgia Withdraws," July 22, 2013
  34. CBS Detroit, "Michigan Gives Final OK To Common Core Standards," November 2, 2013
  35. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah drops out of consortium developing Common Core tests," August 4, 2013
  36. Khristopher J. Brooks, The Florida-Times Union, "Common Core still moving ahead in Florida," October 16, 2013
  37. Lancaster Eagle Gazette, "Ohio Republicans target Common Core," November 29, 2013
  38. Education Week, "NEA Calls for Secretary Duncan's Resignation," July 4, 2014
  39. Politico, "Arne Duncan dismisses union call for resignation," July 7, 2014
  40. Politico, "Another teachers union ding for Arne Duncan," July 13, 2014
  41. 41.0 41.1 Huffington Post, "Student Loan Borrowers' Costs To Jump As Education Department Reaps Huge Profit," April 15, 2014
  42. Huffington Post, "Federal Student Loan Profits Help Duncan Cut Education Spending To Lowest Level Since 2001," November 18, 2013
  43. 43.0 43.1 Wall Street Journal, "Suspensions More Likely for Black Students, Report Finds," March 21, 2014
  44., "Expansive Survey of America's Public Schools Reveals Troubling Racial Disparities," March 21, 2014
  45. New York Times, "School Data Finds Pattern of Inequality Along Racial Lines," March 21, 2014
  46. U.S. Department of Education, "Department Budget History," accessed February 7, 2014
Political offices
Preceded by
Margaret Spellings
U.S. Secretary of Education
Succeeded by