Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach: President Obama and Secretary of Education (2012)





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Published on May 30, 2012


May 4, 2012

Arne Duncan (born November 6, 1964) is an American education administrator and currently United States Secretary of Education. Duncan previously served as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

In 1992, childhood friend and investment banker John W. Rogers, Jr. appointed Duncan director of the Ariel Education Initiative, a program mentoring children at one of the city's worst-performing elementary schools and then assisting them as they proceeded further in the education system. After the school closed in 1996, Duncan and Rogers were instrumental in re-opening it as a charter school, Ariel Community Academy. In 1999, Duncan was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.

Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Duncan to serve as Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools on June 26, 2001. Opinions vary on Duncan's success as CEO; one prominent publication notes improved test scores and describes Duncan as a consensus builder, while another finds the improvements largely a myth and is troubled by the closing of neighborhood schools and their replacement by charter schools, and what it describes as schools' militarization.

Duncan was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate on January 20, 2009. One of Duncan's well-known initiatives as secretary has been a $4 billion Race to the Top competition. It asks states to vie for federal education dollars by submitting proposals that include reforms such as expanding charter schools and judging teachers partly on how well their students do on standardized tests. Duncan sends his own children to public schools. In March 2011 Duncan said 82 percent of the nation's public schools could be failing by next year under the standards of the No Child Left Behind law. The projection amounts to a startling spike from current data, which shows that 37 percent of schools are on track to miss targets set by the law. He said "Four out of five schools in America would not meet their goals under [No Child Left Behind] by next year," Duncan said in his opening statement. "This is why we have to fix the law now. Nobody can support inaction and maintain the status quo."

Teachers' unions, such as the National Education Association (NEA), have criticized the Obama Administration's embrace of charter schools as part of the Race to the Top. The NEA gave the Race to the Top a vote of "no confidence," and invited critic Diane Ravitch to speak at their 2010 meeting. In February 2012, Duncan was criticized for appearing publically on a panel with Michelle Rhee—former Washington D.C. Chancellor of Schools. The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Education (the Department which Duncan heads) was, at that time, investigating whether D.C. schools had cheated to raise test scores during Rhee's tenure. On February 26, 2012, the New York Times quoted criticisms of Duncan by Richard L. Hyde, an investigator who exposed the large-scale test-score cheating that was endemic in Atlanta (Georgia) City Schools: "'I'm shocked that the secretary of education would be fraternizing with someone who could potentially be the target of the investigation,' [Hyde] said. 'The appearance of a conflict of interest is troubling because it can cause the public to lose faith in the investigation.'"


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