Arne Duncan, secretary of education of the U.S. Department of Education, announced his resignation Friday. He will step down at the end of the year.
In an email to his staff announcing his resignation, Duncan said that being away from his family has become too much of a strain. His wife and two children moved back to Chicago in July, and he has been splitting time between Chicago and Washington, D.C. — a city he’s often criticized for its dysfunctional politics. Duncan is cutting his tenure short by a year to be with his family and said he has no plans for what he will do next but knows it will “involve the work of expanding opportunity for children.”
Duncan is one of the longest-serving education secretaries and has been a member of Obama’s Cabinet since the president was elected; the two originally met in Chicago, where Duncan was the head of Chicago Public Schools.
He has come under fire from both parties at times for projects he initiated or championed, like Race to the Top, and for encouraging adoption of Common Core standards for K-12 students. However, he is also responsible for revolutionizing the department’s influence on public education.
Among his accomplishments, Duncan helped direct $100 billion in stimulus funds to districts facing job cuts following the 2008 recession. Some estimate this helped save 350,000 teaching jobs. He also expanded the department’s Office for Civil Rights to oversee investigations into college sexual assault cases and pushed for changes in school discipline policies that were disproportionately targeting minority students.
Duncan has also worked to expand opportunities for low-income students to access higher education through increased funding for Pell grants and by simplifying financial aid forms, while also cracking down on unregulated for-profit colleges that market heavily to these students.
President Barack Obama has appointed John B. King Jr., current deputy secretary of education, as Duncan’s replacement.
King, a Brooklyn native, is the former New York state education commissioner and is the first African American and Puerto Rican to serve in that role. He is also a former president of the University of the State of New York. He is 40 years old, making him one of the youngest Cabinet members in history.
While commissioner, King helped develop teacher evaluations tied to test scores and played a role in New York’s adoption of Common Core standards, two moves that led to calls for his resignation. He joined the Education Department in January.
Both Duncan and Obama expressed confidence in King’s ability to continue the department’s initiatives.
“It is not easy. It is not quick, but we are making progress,” Obama said in announcing Duncan’s resignation. “We’re not going to stop in these last 15 months. And that’s why it’s so important, and why I think we’re very lucky, that … we’ve got an exceptionally talented educator to step in, and that is Dr. John King.”
King, who was orphaned at the age of 12, credits New York City public school teachers for saving his life and influencing him to be an educator.
“[They] gave me hope about what is possible and what could be possible for me in life,” King said.