Arne Duncan was nominated to be secretary of education by President-elect Barack Obama and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2009. Prior to his appointment as secretary of education, Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, a position to which he was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley, from June 2001 through December 2008, becoming the longest-serving big-city education superintendent in the country.
As CEO, Duncan's mandate was to raise education standards and performance, improve teacher and principal quality, and increase learning options. In seven and a half years, he united education reformers, teachers, principals and business stakeholders behind an aggressive education reform agenda that included opening over 100 new schools, expanding after-school and summer learning programs, closing down underperforming schools, increasing early childhood and college access, dramatically boosting the caliber of teachers, and building public-private partnerships around a variety of education initiatives.
Among his most significant accomplishments during his tenure as CEO, an all-time high of 66.7 percent of the district's elementary school students met or exceeded state reading standards, and their math scores also reached a record high, with 70.6 percent meeting or exceeding the state's standards. At high schools, Chicago Public School students posted gains on the ACT at three times the rate of national gains and nearly twice that of the state's. Also, the number of CPS high school students taking Advanced Placement courses tripled and the number of students passing AP classes more than doubled. Duncan has increased graduation rates and boosted the total number of college scholarships secured by CPS students to $157 million.
A study released in June 2008 by the Illinois Education Research Council lauded the Chicago Public Schools for its efforts to bring top teaching talent into the city's classrooms, where the number of teachers applying for positions almost tripled since 2003, from about 8,600 to more than 21,000, or about 10 applicants per teaching position. The number of teachers achieving National Board Certification—the highest education credential available to teachers—increased from 11 in 1999 to 1,191 in 2008, making Chicago the fastest-growing urban district in this area of achievement.
Prior to joining the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan ran the non-profit education foundation Ariel Education Initiative (1992-1998), which helped fund a college education for a class of inner-city children under the I Have A Dream program. He was part of a team that later started a new public elementary school built around a financial literacy curriculum, the Ariel Community Academy, which today ranks among the top elementary schools in Chicago.
Duncan formerly served on the boards of the Ariel Education Initiative, Chicago Cares, the Children's Center, the Golden Apple Foundation, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, Jobs for America's Graduates, Junior Achievement, the Dean's Advisory Board of the Kellogg School of Management, the National Association of Basketball Coaches' Foundation, Renaissance Schools Fund, Scholarship Chicago and the South Side YMCA. He also served on the Board of Overseers for Harvard College and the Visiting Committees for Harvard University's Graduate School of Education and the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration.
Last year, he was honored by the Civic Federation of Chicago and the Anti-Defamation League. In 2007, he received the Niagara Foundation's Education Award, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship Enterprising Educator Award and the University High School Distinguished Alumni Award. He also received honorary degrees from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Lake Forest College and National-Louis University. In 2006, the City Club of Chicago named him Citizen of the Year. He was a member of the Aspen Institute's Henry Crown Fellowship Program, class of 2002, and a fellow in the Leadership Greater Chicago's class of 1995.
From 1987 to 1991, Duncan played professional basketball in Australia, where he also worked with children who were wards of the state.
Duncan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1987, majoring in sociology. He was co-captain of Harvard's basketball team and was named a first team Academic All-American. He credits basketball with his team-oriented and highly disciplined work ethic.
His late father was a professor at the University of Chicago and his mother has run a South Side tutoring program for inner-city children since 1961. As a student in Chicago, Duncan spent afternoons in his mother's tutoring program and also worked there during a year off from college. He credits this experience with shaping his understanding of the challenges of urban education.
Duncan is married to Karen Duncan and they have two children, daughter Claire, 8, and son Ryan, 5, who attend a public elementary school in Arlington, Va.
Follow Secretary Duncan on Twitter @ArneDuncan.
Secretary Arne Duncan's Posts
- March 10, 2015 at 2:40 PM EDT
President Obama has proposed a new Student and Borrower Bill of Rights, and he is outlining a series of new actions that direct the Administration to make paying for higher education an easier and fairer experience for millions of Americans.
- March 6, 2015 at 2:34 PM EDT
Great efforts are underway in communities across the country – but our young people still face great challenges. To truly change the face of opportunity in this country – to truly make the bounty of America available to the many, and not just the few – we must replicate and expand what’s working.
- February 12, 2015 at 12:14 PM EDT
Fewer than 40 percent of public schools currently have the high-speed Internet needed to support modern digital learning. We have the resources to solve this problem -- we just need help from our nation’s superintendents and school technology chiefs.
- February 10, 2015 at 12:37 PM EDT
Like the civil rights leaders who came before them, students and teachers in Ferguson, Missouri see education as an important means of addressing inequities and injustices.
- January 9, 2015 at 8:41 PM EDT
An email from Secretary Duncan highlights the President's new proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students.
- September 19, 2014 at 10:15 AM EDT
Secretary Arne Duncan wraps up his recent back-to-school bus tour and wants to hear from you.
- September 8, 2014 at 9:58 AM EDT
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan takes over the White House’s Instagram account to give you a behind-the-scenes look at his annual back-to-school bus tour.
- May 2, 2014 at 9:41 AM EDT
First Lady Michelle Obama announces the Reach Higher Initiative -- an effort to inspire more young people to take control of their future through higher education.
- February 28, 2014 at 9:21 AM EDT
A few months ago, the White House challenged students all across the country to create short films illustrating the importance of technology in the classroom. Here's what happened next.
- December 17, 2013 at 7:15 PM EDT
The Department of Education announces the second round of grantees in the Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition.