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Sec. Arne Duncan
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.

In his confirmation hearings, Duncan called education "the most pressing issue facing America," adding that "preparing young people for success in life is not just a moral obligation of society" but also an "economic imperative." "Education is also the civil rights issue of our generation," he said, "the only sure path out of poverty and the only way to achieve a more equal and just society." Duncan expressed his commitment to work under the leadership of President Obama and with all those involved in education "to enhance education in America, to lift our children and families out of poverty, to help our students learn to contribute to the civility of our great American democracy, and to strengthen our economy by producing a workforce that can make us as competitive as possible."

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 Clare, 8, and son Ryan, 5, who attend a public elementary school in Arlington, Va.

Entries by Sec. Arne Duncan

New Orleans: An Unfinished Story

(1) Comments | Posted August 28, 2015 | 11:02 AM

The story of rebirth in New Orleans' schools since Hurricane Katrina is one of nationally historic significance - but as is true of the city's recovery, it is a profoundly unfinished story.

As residents of the area know too well, the devastation of the hurricane wasn't merely an accident of...

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Serving More Summer Meals in Rural and Tribal Areas

(0) Comments | Posted June 22, 2015 | 4:48 PM

During the school year, over 21 million children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch each day through the USDA's National School Lunch Program. But, when school is out, many children who rely on these meals go hungry. The challenge is particularly great in rural areas and Indian Country, where...

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Bringing the Promise of Healthy School Meals to More Children This Fall

(0) Comments | Posted July 15, 2014 | 10:49 AM

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 enabled the U.S Department of Agriculture to make historic changes to the meals served in our nation's schools. Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks sold during the school day are now more nutritious than ever, with less fat and sodium and more whole-grains,...

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The Great Society, 50 Years Later

(7) Comments | Posted May 22, 2014 | 4:46 PM

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson gave a commencement speech that changed the relationship between our country and its people. In that speech, he offered a vision of a "Great Society," and in few places has the mark of his vision remained stronger than in education.

Johnson, who himself...

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Progress and Challenges 60 Years After Brown v. Board

(4) Comments | Posted May 17, 2014 | 7:57 AM

Anniversaries that commemorate milestones in our nation's history give us the opportunity to reflect and also to look ahead. For me, this week provides such a moment, as we mark the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark decision in the case of Oliver Brown et al. v....

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Reach Higher for College

(10) Comments | Posted May 2, 2014 | 9:26 AM

It's easy to talk about the importance of college. But some folks really walk the walk.

I had the thrilling opportunity to meet some of them a few years ago, when I joined the college signing day at YES Prep in Houston, Texas. As I told the audience...

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Why I Wear 80

(18) Comments | Posted February 14, 2014 | 9:21 AM

When I take the court tonight for the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, I'll be wearing a number that signifies some great news -- thanks to the hard work of our nation's students, parents, and educators.

The number I'll wear -- 80 -- is rarely seen on a basketball jersey --...

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Invest in Yourself, Get Coverage

(104) Comments | Posted August 27, 2013 | 12:25 PM

Long before President Obama asked us to serve in his Cabinet, both of us played on our college basketball teams. In those days we didn't think all that much about whether we might get injured on (or off) the court. But we had peace of mind in knowing that if...

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America's Middle Class Promise Starts Early

(167) Comments | Posted March 4, 2013 | 9:30 AM

In his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke forcefully about America's basic bargain that people who work hard and shoulder their responsibilities should be able to climb into a thriving middle class. Restoring that bargain, he said, is the unfinished work of our generation.

But for millions of...

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Now is the Time to Reduce Gun Violence in Schools and Communities

(55) Comments | Posted January 16, 2013 | 4:43 PM

I have been proud to serve President Obama and this administration since day one, but today was one of my proudest days. The actions that the president is taking and proposing to reduce gun violence echo what America's educators say they need to better protect and support students...

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How do U.S. Students Compare with their Peers around the World?

(132) Comments | Posted December 11, 2012 | 2:29 PM

New international assessments of student performance in reading, math, and science provide both encouraging news about American students' progress and some sobering cautionary notes.

The encouraging news is that U.S. fourth grade students have made significant progress in reading and mathematics in the last five years. In fact, our fourth...

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The Tennessee Story

(60) Comments | Posted July 23, 2012 | 1:20 PM

For the last four years, the Obama administration has provided funding and incentives for states to help build a teaching profession that is both respected and rigorous. Today, we're starting to see that investment pay off -- in expanded collaboration among teachers and improved performance among students. More teachers today...

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My Most Important Job

(105) Comments | Posted June 18, 2012 | 4:04 PM

A few days ago, I went to my 10-year-old daughter's band concert. It was a great evening, and after the show a few parents told me they were surprised I'd made it, considering my schedule -- which got me thinking. To me, it was unfathomable that I could have something...

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Ask the Teachers

(315) Comments | Posted May 7, 2012 | 7:15 AM

When I ask teachers why they teach, they almost always say that it is because they want to make a difference in the lives of children. They talk about the joys of teaching and the singular rewards of watching children learn. Often they mention former students who get in touch...

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Lower Student Loan Interest Rates

(575) Comments | Posted April 27, 2012 | 6:36 AM

Fifty years ago college was a luxury. Back then, you could still graduate from high school and get a good paying job that would guarantee you a place in the middle class. Those days are gone.

A postsecondary education is the ticket to economic success in America. We know...

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Teacher Pay Study Asks the Wrong Question, Ignores Facts, Insults Teachers

(755) Comments | Posted November 9, 2011 | 4:17 PM

As millions of Americans search for work, and millions more scrape by to make ends meet, researchers affiliated with two Washington think tanks -- the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation -- have recently announced a "finding" that defies common-sense: America's teachers are overpaid by more than...

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A National Commitment to High-Quality Early Learning

(269) Comments | Posted November 5, 2011 | 11:14 AM

Two years ago this month, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) welcomed me as the first ever U.S. Secretary of Education to speak at their annual conference. In my remarks, I talked about the Obama Administration's shared interest in overcoming many of...

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A Graduation Gift

(66) Comments | Posted April 26, 2011 | 6:04 PM

With graduation just around the corner, many of you are preparing to start a new chapter in your lives. With anticipation and perhaps a hint of nervousness, you are deciding where to live and what to do. But some of you also have a third question on your mind: where...

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Uncommon Wisdom on Teaching

(279) Comments | Posted March 16, 2011 | 11:53 AM

Much of the conventional wisdom today about the difficulty of elevating the teaching profession is mistaken or exaggerated. Many people believe that the challenges facing the teaching profession are largely unique to each nation. Others contend that the status of the teaching profession in America and other countries is largely...

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A Teacher Reflects on the State of the Union Address

(265) Comments | Posted January 26, 2011 | 1:15 PM

President Obama clearly signaled his support for education in his State of the Union Address. In a blog post for, Antero Garcia, a Classroom Teaching Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education, explains what the President's message means to him as a teacher:

Like millions of...

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