STEPPING DOWN: Arne Duncan, seen here in a file photo, said he's leaving the U.S. Department of Education.
The White House has confirmed
that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,
who has presided over a time of great turmoil for school systems across the nation, will leave the cabinet position at the end of the year.
He'll be succeeded by John B. King, Jr.,
currently the deputy secretary at the department. King is best known for his tenure as chief of schools in New York state
, where he became a lightning rod for critics of the Common Core
and the often-flawed first round of tests associated with those new math and literacy standards.
Duncan, too, was a prominent supporter of Common Core, for which he attracted derision from the left and the right. Duncan was also a major proponent of expanded charter schools, which placed him at odds with teachers' unions. Given King's record in New York state, we'll likely see a continuation of Duncan's ideas under his leadership of U.S. DOE.
Duncan has been an instrumental figure in the Obama administration, but many of the transformational changes he oversaw were set in motion under President George W. Bush, including No Child Left Behind
(which created the high-stakes testing landscape that has come to define so much about public education today) and the move towards a common set of math and literacy standards (although Common Core itself was created by a multi-state consortium, not a federal effort).
The Washington Post
sums up Duncan significance well:
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 the nation’s 100,000 public schools. He largely bypassed Congress to induce states to adopt landmark changes that none of his predecessors attempted – policies such as teacher evaluations and higher academic standards.
Duncan tried to straddle the deep national divide about the best way to improve public education, working between 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.
To Duncan, that has meant a rapid expansion of public charter schools, promoting a national set of K-12 academic benchmarks known as the Common Core State Standards in math and reading, holding teachers accountable for student progress as measured in part by test scores; enrolling more low-income children in preschool and a desire to invest in “wraparound services” such as medical care, mentoring and family services.