Education Secretary Arne Duncan To Step Down

October 02, 2015

By Cory Turner

After nearly seven years in office, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will step down in December. The former head of Chicago Public Schools came to Washington back in 2009 with his friend — a newly-elected President Obama.

Duncan's tenure was remarkable for two reasons:

First, he got a lot done. A lot. The list is long, so, for the purposes of this short post, let's focus on perhaps the biggest thing he did, which was also one of the first things he did. In the summer of 2009, Duncan made this grand pronouncement:

"For states, for district leaders, for unions, for businesses and for nonprofits, the Race to the Top is the equivalent of education reform's moonshot."


That was the moment, "when I knew that the debate was shifting into the larger context in Washington that was all about seeking partisan advantage," says Stanford University professor Thomas Dee, who heads the school's Center for Education Policy Analysis.

The charged rhetoric often drowned out teachers' legitimate concerns about how to put Common Core into action inside the classroom, Dee says. "It is such a heavy lift to ask the nation's teachers to reinvent their teaching practices around these standards."

The ongoing debate over the standards, in many ways, shows the limitations of the federal role reform in America's highly decentralized education system.