KidsPost Interview With Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

This is the second in KidsPost's series about members of President Barack Obama's Cabinet and what they do. To see the first story, about Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., go to

Two things were very important in Arne Duncan's life when he was a kid: school and basketball. That hasn't changed now that he is an adult.

Duncan, 44, is U.S. secretary of education in President Obama's Cabinet. That means he spends his days thinking about how to improve the schools that you and other kids in the United States attend.

"My job is to help make schools better and make sure that we have great teachers and principals in every school," he said. "I am convinced children will do extraordinarily well if given the chance."

The problem, Duncan said, is that not every child has the opportunity to attend a good school.

Duncan grew up in Chicago, where his father taught at the University of Chicago, and he attended a private school connected to the university -- the same school that Obama's daughters went to before they moved to Washington.

Duncan spent a lot of time at a tutoring program his mother founded and ran for poor kids in the city. He also worked there during a year off from college. While working with his mother, Duncan learned that many kids aren't at good schools. He became determined to change that.

"We need more adults to believe how much potential every single child has," he said. "I don't know if adults believe in their hearts how much potential every single child has."

His passion for basketball led him to become co-captain of Harvard University's basketball team and, later, to play professional basketball in Australia. Duncan said that basketball taught him the importance of teamwork and discipline.

He returned to the United States and started working in education in Chicago, where he opened a school and then became the head of the city's school system. He stayed in the job from 2001 until 2008.

Obama, impressed with how Duncan worked to improve Chicago's schools, picked him to run the U.S. Education Department and its 4,200 employees.

Part of his job is to distribute federal money to school systems across the country. And he works with Obama to figure out ways to improve schools.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company