Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s surprise announcement on Fridaythat he is stepping down generated a large amount of media coverage over the weekend, with reports focusing on the abrupt nature of Duncan’s departure, on his legacies as education secretary, and on President Obama’s decision to tap John B. King Jr. to serve as acting secretary for the remainder of his term.
The New York Times (10/3, Shear, Subscription Publication) reports that Duncan was an original member of President Obama’s cabinet, saying he will “step down in December after a long tenure in which he repeatedly challenged the nation’s schools to break out of their hidebound ways.” The Times reports that Obama named King to step in, under whom Duncan said that ED “would be in good hands.” The Times notes that Duncan started Race to the Top, after having “accompanied the president from Chicago, where the two had forged a friendship.”
The Washington Post (10/3, Brown) reports that Duncan is leaving the Cabinet “more than a year before the president’s term will end,” and quoting Obama saying, “He’s done more to bring our educational system, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the 21st century than anyone else. America will be better off for what he has done.” The Post reports that Duncan has reportedly been “the most influential” of Obama’s Cabinet secretaries, noting that he “took an agency long considered a quiet outpost in the power landscape of Washington, D.C., and – through luck and strategy – oversaw a vigorous expansion of the federal role in” K-12 education. The Post reports that Duncan “tried to straddle the deep national divide about” improving schools, working with “those who believe that competition, accountability and market forces are the best route and others who argue for heavier investment to address the many needs of poor children who increasingly fill public schools.” The Post describes Duncan’s use of the Race to the Top and NCLB waiver programs to “cajole and convince states to adopt his favored policies.”
A separate article in the Washington Post (10/2, Brown) focuses on Duncan’s close relationship with President Obama, noting their shared ties to Chicago and shared love of basketball. The piece describes Duncan’s upbringing in Chicago, and notes that he “came to office determined to use federal power to force states and cities to improve education for low-income children.”
The AP (10/2, Lederman) reports that Duncan’s seven years in office were “marked by a willingness to plunge head-on into the heated debate about the government’s role in education.” The AP notes that Obama, “in an unconventional move,” selected King “to run the department while leaving the role of secretary vacant for the remainder of his presidency,” thereby avoiding a confirmation fight in Congress. The piece quotes Duncan saying in an internal ED email, “Being apart from my family has become too much of a strain, and it is time for me to step aside and give a new leader a chance.” Duncan’s time in office was marked by “a roiling debate about perceived federal overreach into schools that remains a potent issue as he leaves office.” Duncan courted “resistance from both ends of the political spectrum” by using “the federal government’s leverage to entice schools and states to follow the Obama’s administration’s preferred approach to higher standards.”
Early Childhood Education Advocates Hail Duncan’s Work. Christina Samuels writes at the Education Week (10/5) “Early Years” blog that early childhood education advocates hailed ED’s work under Duncan to advance “early education past vague conversations and into concrete policy,” noting that he “managed to work early education into most speeches, repeating the administration’s call for an investment in high-quality prekindergarten.”
Analysis: Duncan’s Reforms May Fizzle Without His Pressure. A Hechinger Report (10/5) analysis explores how Duncan’s “forceful strategy to push dramatic changes” will play out after his departure, noting that his “aggressiveness and urgency...alienated friends and could, in the end, be what derails his reforms.” The article describes several policy initiatives pushed under Duncan’s tenure, but notes that Congress is rewriting ESEA and “considering rewrites that would limit the ability of the education department to get involved in state policy, leaving many wondering whether Duncan’s seven years of intense reforms will stick.” Moreover, “many states are facing growing backlash over the increased emphasis on standardized testing and are slowing down plans to revamp teacher evaluation systems or retreating on Common Core.”
Obama Taps King To Replace Duncan Despite “Rocky Tenure” In New York. USA Today (10/2, Spector) reports that Obama has selected former New York Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. to replace Duncan, despite his having “left as New York’s education chief last year amid a rocky tenure.” King, the state’s first black schools chief, served in that role from 2011 through 2014, where he “oversaw New York’s roll-out of Common Core, and he supported the more-stringent education standards.”