Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement on Friday that he plans to step down later this year was greeted by a range of reactions that illustrate how deeply divided the country is over the Obama administration’s education policies.
Former California congressman George Miller, a Democrat who worked closely with Duncan as chairman of the House education committee, called Duncan’s departure “a huge loss,” and said no one has been more committed to improving the education of the nation’s most disadvantaged children.
Gus Morales, a Massachussetts teacher and member of the Badass Teachers Association, a fierce critic of Duncan’s policies, called him “one of the most destructive people to hold the title of Secretary of Education.”
Taking over the Education Department in December will be John B. King Jr., a former New York state education chief who has as many fervent supporters and critics as Duncan. Like Duncan, King supports charter schools, Common Core standards and teacher evaluations tied to test scores, and speaks often about the need for greater equity in the nation’s public schools.
Here’s a roundup of reactions to Duncan’s departure:
Chris Minnich, executive director of Council of Chief State School Officers:
Secretary Duncan has been a champion for students across the country. It has been an honor to work with him in the pursuit of better outcomes for all kids. He is a sincere, committed leader who has been a partner with state chiefs in advancing student achievement for all kids. I wish him the best in his future endeavors, and I look forward to working with John King to ensure a seamless transition for states and students.
Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, which had called for Duncan’s resignation:
The National Education Association wishes Sec. Duncan well in his future endeavors.
NEA and Sec. Duncan have always been in clear agreement that we need to strengthen public education and make sure all students have the opportunity to succeed. He has made important strides in the promotion of early childhood education, college affordability and teacher leadership.
We’ve also had our disagreements. There is a lot to be done to ensure the success of all our students, including fixing overtesting and making sure every child in every ZIP CODE has a quality education.
Teach for America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard:
To borrow a favorite phrase from Arne Duncan, leadership matters tremendously in education—in classrooms, school districts, states and in Washington. For nearly seven years as Secretary of Education, Arne has demonstrated courageous and humble leadership and generous, nonpartisan partnership.
Arne has encouraged a national conversation about the importance of equity and excellence for all of America’s students. That dialogue is most effective when people with diverse viewpoints, who share a common belief in the potential of all kids and communities, come together to tackle our biggest challenges. The conversation and collaboration that Arne encouraged will and must continue, and so must the progress for students, educators and our country that is resulting from it.
Stepping in for Arne is another inspiring leader, John King, who brings to this work a very personal understanding of the power of educators to change lives. Teach For America appreciates the tremendous support from John, Arne and President Obama for the communities we serve and for teachers, principals and other leaders working every day to fulfill the potential of our nation and our children.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:
We wish Arne Duncan only the best. When President Obama and Arne Duncan came into office, we were in the midst of a great recession. We are grateful for the stimulus money we all fought for because it provided a crucial lifeline to schools throughout the country suffering from crippling austerity and budget cuts. We also want to acknowledge the work to lower student debt, protect students from predatory practices by for-profit colleges, provide equity for low-income children, expand early childhood education and highlight the importance of teacher leadership and career and technical education.
At the same time, there’s no question that the Department of Education’s fixation on charters and high-stakes testing has not worked. Deep public discontent, parental anger, teacher demoralization and the teacher shortage have their roots in the misuse of testing. Equally concerning is the move at the department and in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia to once again squeeze out or close many public schools and replace them with charters, an approach that is becoming the new silver bullet. That’s why we are disappointed to hear that Deputy Secretary of Education John King Jr. will be appointed as the acting secretary. No one doubts John’s commitment to children, but his tenure as New York state’s education commissioner created so much polarization in the state with parents and educators alike that even Gov. Andrew Cuomo is finally doing a mea culpa over the obsession with testing. We can only hope that King has learned a thing or two since his tenure in New York.”
Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Schools:
We applaud Secretary Duncan for his leadership on behalf of all the nation’s students and schools. Duncan placed a priority on working to ensure equity for all students, advanced innovation in education, and has been committed to ensuring students from all backgrounds have access to high quality public schools.
In particular, his leadership on behalf of the federal Charter Schools Program has enabled the dramatic growth in the number of high quality charter schools, ensuring that hundreds of thousands more students now have access to better schools regardless of their family income or zip code.
The National Alliance thanks Duncan for his service.
Jim Stergios, executive director of the anti-Common Core Pioneer Institute:
Secretary Arne Duncan liked to describe the U.S. Department of Education’s policies as “game-changing. Nearly seven years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, the data demonstrate that his efforts were anything but effective at improving student achievement.
His thin record delivering results for students is evident in our NAEP scores and performance on international tests. The School Improvement Grant program and reform agenda for colleges achieved little. And then there is his deeply troubling penchant to ignore federal laws and force the federal government into state and local decisions in K-12 education.
What started out as an administration that talked up the education decentralization through new charter schools quickly morphed into the usual Washington-knows-best approach that we have come to expect from the Lyndon B. Johnson Building.
Finally, his tenure was marked by a willingness to bypass congressional approval and ignore U.S. law. Three federal laws explicitly prohibit USED from funding, directing, or validating national standards, testing and curriculum materials; the Race to the Top, department-issued conditional waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, and two federally funded testing consortia violated each of those prohibitions.
George Miller, former Democratic congressman from California who chaired the House education committee from 2007 to 2011:
Miller praised Duncan’s efforts to preserve federal funds meant for the education of poor and disabled children, as well as his efforts to hold schools accountable for the education they provide.
“He’s been very strong, and when Congress got itself into the gridlock that they continue to be in, he made the decision — he and the president — that they were going to create Race to the Top so that those states that wanted to move to the future had the opportunity to do so. I think that was very important because so many students would continue to have be denied opportunities if he didn’t help states recognize their obligation to move to the future. … It’s not a perfect solution but he unfortunately had to work around the Congress. … He had no other choice.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee:
Arne Duncan was one of the president’s best appointments. He has a big heart, cares about children, and I have enjoyed working with him. When we disagree, it is usually because he believes the path to effective teaching, higher standards, and real accountability is through Washington, DC, and I believe it should be in the hands of states, communities, parents and classroom teachers.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate education committee:
Anyone who has spent any time with Secretary Duncan knows he is passionate about giving every student in America the chance to excel in the classroom, build their skills, and set out on a path toward the American Dream. From understanding the incredible importance of early childhood education, to closing achievement gaps, and working to bring down the rising costs of college, Secretary Duncan has never stopped working to make sure all students get access to a quality education, regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.
I have been proud to work with him as we fight to fix the badly broken No Child Left Behind law, and I look forward to his continued engagement over the next few months as Congress works to finish this bipartisan process and send President Obama a bill that he can sign into law.
I truly thank Secretary Duncan for his dedication, his service, and his great work toward fulfilling the promise of a quality education for all students across our country.
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House education committee:
Secretary Duncan has been a dedicated public servant for nearly 15 years, including more than six years leading the Department of Education. It goes without saying that we have had our disagreements, but I have never doubted his commitment to America’s students. He has traveled the country urging states and schools to raise the bar on student achievement, and while some of his decisions have been controversial, he has challenged us to make education reform a national priority. Arne is to be commended for his service to our country, and I wish him, his wife Karen, and his family all the best in the years ahead.
Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), ranking member of the House education committee:
As secretary, Arne has prioritized K-12 education, pushed for a renewed ESEA that is worthy of the President’s signature, found new ways to make college more affordable and campuses safer, advocated for more fair and balanced school discipline policies, and has focused on ways to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. I’ve been happy to count him as a partner in this work, as I introduced the Youth P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Act and the Youth Justice Act earlier this year. Arne has been an outspoken advocate for closing the achievement gaps that persist in too many of our schools, and a stalwart champion for the students and families the system often leaves behind. I deeply appreciate his service and friendship, and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
The effective leadership that has been the hallmark of Arne’s tenure as Secretary is not leaving the Department. I look forward to continued partnership in the fight to opening doors for all of America’s children with Deputy Secretary John King as he assumes this new role. Dr. King has spent his career dedicated to expanding educational opportunity for historically underserved students. As a former teacher, a school leader and a leader of school systems, Dr. King knows firsthand the direct impact the programs and policies of the Department have on families.
Badass Teachers Association:
Today the White House confirmed that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would be stepping down. The Badass Teachers Association, an education activist organization with over 70,000 supporters nationwide, celebrate this decision. Sadly, at the same time we rejoice the resignation of a man who has done more destruction to public education than any other sitting Secretary, we are horrified that President Obama has chosen to replace him with John King. John King is the former Commissioner of Education in New York.
John King’s tenure in New York was one of controversy and with an established agenda of dismantling public education by using corporate education reform tactics. King was run out of New York in 2014 because of a staggering test opt out rate, because he ignored and dismissed parents at education forums, and because he refused to fix an education system that he himself destroyed. The state teachers union, NYSUT, had a unanimous vote of no confidence in him prior to his departure.
Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute:
Arne Duncan is a good man with an impressive, sincere commitment to serving the nation’s students. Many of the ideas he has championed—like better teacher evaluation, charter schooling, and evidence-based grant-making—are good ones.
Unfortunately, he too often pursued his agenda in troubling ways and in a manner that has created worrisome precedents. His sincere commitment too often manifested itself as a disregard for limits on the federal role and for possible unintended consequences of a too-heavy federal hand.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
Secretary Duncan’s commitment to advancing the civil and human rights of all students will be long-remembered as a hallmark of his tenure at the Department of Education.
Under his leadership, the department made historic advances in addressing school discipline and resource disparities, providing data on educational opportunities for vulnerable students, expanding access to high-quality early childhood education, addressing campus sexual assault and reining in the for-profit college industry.
We look forward to working with John King to strengthen these initiatives, to preserve the civil rights legacy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in Congress and to expand educational opportunities for all students.