Arne Duncan Resigning as Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan will be stepping down in December, according to the Washington Post. The Secretary of Education told staff that he would be returning to Chicago, but he was unsure what he would do next.

The report said that President Obama was appointing John King Jr., a senior advisor at the Department of Education, to serve as interim secretary for the rest of his administration. As the Post pointed out, that approach would "spare Obama a confirmation fight over a nominee in the Senate," which is currently Republican-controlled.

Duncan had tapped King in January to oversee preschool through 12th grade education policies, programs and strategic projects. He also ran the operations of the Department, which has 4,000 employees and a $60 billion budget. Prior to that, King served as the commissioner of education for the state of New York.

Duncan was one of the President's original cabinet members. He joined a contingent that moved to Washington from Chicago to serve under Obama after running that city's public school system.

During his term, Duncan has expanded the idea of public education going beyond the parameters of K-12 to encompass a vision that stretches from preschool through post-secondary schooling.

The focus in K-12 included the Race to the Top, a federal grant program that encouraged states to undertake innovation in their K-12 work. As the Post article noted, that initiative set off a firestorm over "federal involvement in education." Opponents labeled the program a federal bribe to get states to adopt the Common Core State Standards.

On the higher education front, Duncan long has promoted the idea of learning flexibility and accountability. Regarding the latter, as recently as July, in a speech at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the secretary commented, "For many accreditors, student outcomes are way down the priority list. The current system of continuous improvement is in desperate need of its own improvement. We need to build a system in which student learning, graduation and going on to get good jobs count most. That's what it means to focus on outcomes."

He added that his department would "work with states, colleges and accreditors in a shared partnership, with clear responsibilities, to increase accountability for student success in higher education."

In that same speech, Duncan predicted that in the future, a college education would become "far more flexible about both time and place and ways of learning, and awarding credit for competencies gained. Increasingly, they will enable students to customize their post-secondary education in different times and places over their entire lifetimes, accumulating credentials that educators call 'portable and stackable.'"

In a letter that was obtained by the Associated Press, reported the Post, Duncan informed his colleagues that he wasn't sure what he would do next, but that he hoped it would "continue to involve the work of expanding opportunity for children."


About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.