Born on November 6, 1964 in Hyde Park, Chicago, Arne Duncan graduated from Harvard College in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in sociology, and then spent four years playing professional basketball, mostly in Australia. From 1992-98 Duncan directed the Ariel Education Initiative, which provided scholarships to poor, urban youth who wished to attend college. From 1998-2001 he was deputy chief of staff of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), where he headed the magnet school program. And from 2001-08, Duncan was CPS's chief executive officer. According to CNS News, progress reports from the Illinois State Board of Education showed that under Duncan's leadership, “the Chicago district failed to make 'Adequate Yearly Progress' in mathematics and reading each year from 2004 to 2008.” Nevertheless, in January 2009 Duncan began a seven-year tenure as U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama.
In February 2010, Duncan advocated for President Obama's proposal to create a program allowing college students to take out education loans directly through the federal government, and to thereby avoid paying “wasteful subsidies to banks.” That same year, Duncan praised a provision of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that not only required students to borrow directly from the government, but also expanded Pell Grants, increased federal funding for colleges with large nonwhite enrollment, and would eventually forgive student-loan debts for those who pursued careers in “public service.”
In 2012, Duncan identified merit pay for teachers as the U.S. Department Of Education's (DOE) highest priority. The $4.35 billion Race To The Top (RTTP) fund—Duncan’s signature program which aimed to improve student performance and close racial gaps in achievement by financially incentivizing states to adopt educational reforms dictated by the DOE—likewise called for performance-based pay. Duncan's stance on this issue greatly displeased the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, both of which consequently called for his resignation.
RTTP also massively increased federal control over state education policy and pushed states to adopt the new Common Core curriculum even before it had been clearly defined. When many parents objected to the heavy-handed manner in which Common Core was being advanced by Duncan, he said that the complaints were coming mostly from a misinformed, ideologically driven “fringe” consisting of “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[realize] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were.”
When congressional Republicans raised concerns about the Obama administration’s 2013 call for universal, government-funded preschool, Duncan dismissed their objections as “education malpractice, economically foolish, and morally indefensible.”
Despite the extraordinary success of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, a voucher initiative for poor students in the District of Columbia, Duncan fought relentlessly to defund and terminate it. He preferred, instead, to help the Obama administration “devot[e] more resources and suppor[t] more ambitious reform of our public school systems than any administration in history.”
Noting that black students were significantly more likely to be suspended or expelled from school for disciplinary reasons than their white peers, DOE's Office for Civil Rights announced in 2014 that such “a disparate impact” could indicate “unlawful discrimination … [even] if a policy is neutral on its face” and “is administered in an evenhanded manner.” With Duncan asserting that racial discrimination in discipline was “a real problem today,” the DOE pressured schools to adopt veritable racial quotas for suspensions and expulsions.
Scholar Mary Grabar writes that under Duncan's watch, the DOE became “a propaganda arm used to influence the next generation to accept the idea of catastrophic man-made climate change.” Toward that end, she explains, students were often required to watch Al Gore’s propagandistic documentary, An Inconvenient Truth; were instructed to make videos “express[ing] why they care about climate change and what they are doing to reduce emissions or to prepare for its impacts”; and were enrolled in a National Wildlife Federation program wherein they could “propose solutions” to global warming.
In October 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—a test administered biennially to assess the reading and math capacities of fourth- and eighth-grade students—scores were down almost entirely across the board. “This marked a striking shift,” said National Review Online, “from a quarter-century of steady increases on the NAEP.... Overall, just 36 percent of fourth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders were deemed proficient in reading. In math, the figures were 40 percent of fourth-graders and 33 percent of eighth-graders. Viewed against more than two decades of prior scores, these results can only be described as a train wreck.” Duncan, for his part, dismissed the concerns of people who wondered whether these poor results might indicate that Obama administration initiatives like Common Core and RTTP were deeply flawed. “Big change never happens overnight,” said Duncan. “I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”
Also during his tenure as Education Secretary, Duncan stated that public schools should be kept open for 12-14 hours per day, 7 days a week, in order to help wage a “battle for social justice” through: (a) after-school-programs that address the social, emotional, and academic needs of students, and (b) the provision of various services for their parents.
Duncan stepped down from his post as Secretary of Education on December 31, 2015. In March 2016 he announced that he had accepted a position as managing partner of the Emerson Collective, a California-based organization whose work focuses “on education, immigration reform, the environment, and other social justice initiatives” designed to “spur change and promote equality.”
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 As economist and political analyst Walter E. Williams notes, “Duncan and his Obama administration supporters conveniently ignored school 'racial discrimination' against whites, who are more than two times as likely to be suspended as Asians and Pacific Islanders.”