Arne Duncan to resign: Who will head Department of Education?

Secretary Duncan is one of the only remaining members of President Obama's original cabinet.

Andrew Harnik/AP
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan takes the stage before President Barack Obama arrives for a town hall with high school juniors, seniors and their parents at North High School in Des Moines on Sept. 14, to discuss college access and affordability. Secretary Duncan announced on Friday that he will be leaving his post in December.

Arne Duncan, one of President Obama's longest-serving advisors announced Friday that he will step down in December.

Education Secretary Duncan sent an email to his staff saying that he is moving back to Chicago to live with his family. His future steps are unknown, but he hopes it will “continue to involve the work of expanding opportunity for children.”

With the departure, Mr. Obama is losing one of his remaining original cabinet members. He could often be seen on the basketball courts as a regular member of Obama’s weekend basketball games. 

More than just losing a long-time advisor and a personal friend, Obama will lose an effective cabinet member. “[Duncan's] the most influential secretary that we’ve had since the Department [of Education] was created in 1980,” Charles Barone, federal policy director of Democrats for Education Reform in New York and a Democratic congressional staffer when the No Child Left Behind law was crafted during George W. Bush's presidency, told The Christian Science Monitor in a 2010 interview. 

During his seven-year tenure at the helm of the Department of Education, Duncan has implemented a host of educational reforms, spurred by the $100 billion of economic stimulus money he distributed at the beginning of his term. He made his focus K-12 education. The creation of a program such as Race to the Top, a competition between select states for a portion of $4.3 billion, helped incentivize K-12 school districts across the nation to conform with reform goals. 

For many, his success was also attributed to his ability to work across the political spectrum. Chester Finn, who was an assistant secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan and an expert at the conservative Hoover Institution, said previously, Duncan was able to cooperate and work with Republicans because “there’s nothing they want to argue with him about.”

Duncan did have critics and he did not always handle the criticism as professionally as he did education reform. His 2014 comment that his critics were “white suburban moms who – all of a sudden – their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary," drew sharp criticism. he later apologized for "clumsy phrasing."

Obama does not plan on replacing Arne Duncan, at least not officially. To avoid a nomination fight in Congress, Obama plans on having John King Jr., a senior official at the Education Department, to run the agency as a delegated deputy secretary.

Obama does not plan on nominating Mr. King or anyone else for the education secretary position before his presidential term is over in early 2017.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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