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PASSING THE TORCH: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Announces Resignation, Former New York Education Commissioner John King to Succeed Him

On October 2, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he will step down at the end of December. John King, delegated Deputy Secretary of Education of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), will replace Duncan and will serve as acting Education Secretary for the remainder of the Obama administration.

“Arne has done more to bring our educational system—sometimes kicking and screaming—into the twenty-first century than anybody else,” Obama said in an October 2 appearance at the White House with Duncan and King. “America is going to be better off for what he has done. It’s going to be more competitive and more prosperous. It is going to be more equal and more upwardly mobile. It’s a record that I truly believe no other Education Secretary can match.”

In discussing Duncan’s record, Obama noted that Duncan and his team have “delivered some incredible results at every stage of the educational experience.” Specifically, Obama referenced that more than thirty states have “upped their investment” in early childhood education and that nearly every state has raised its standards for teaching and learning. He also noted that the U.S. high school graduation rate is at an all-time high while more Americans are graduating from college than ever before.

“Arne bleeds this stuff,” Obama said. “He cares so much about our kids. And he’s been so passionate about this work. Everybody who interacts with him, including people who disagree with him on some issues, never questions the genuineness and heart that he has brought to this job.”

Admitting that he “cried more” on October 2 than he had in a while, Duncan said he was stepping down to spend more time with his family after commuting between Chicago and Washington, DC, for the last several months.

“Serving the President in the work of expanding opportunity for students throughout this country has been the greatest honor of my life. Doing so alongside people of the brilliance, ability and moral conviction of the team here at ED has been nothing short of thrilling,” Duncan wrote in an email to ED staff. “It’s with real sadness that I have come to recognize that being apart from my family has become too much of a strain, and it is time for me to step aside and give a new leader a chance.”

That new leader will be John King, who oversees all preschool-through-grade-twelve education policies, programs and strategic initiatives, as well as the operations of ED.

“He’s been an educator all his life—a teacher, a principal, a leader of schools, the New York State’s education chief,” Obama said. “He shares our commitment to preparing every child for success in a more innovative and competitive world.”

In his appearance with Duncan and Obama, King, who lost both parents before turning thirteen, said New York City public school teachers are the reason he is alive. “They are the reason that I became a teacher,” King said. “They are the reason I am standing here today. Those teachers created amazing educational experiences, but also gave me hope—hope about what is possible, what could be possible for me in life.”

In an op-ed for the Hechinger Report, Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise writes that Obama “doubled down on his commitment to the nation’s underserved students” by selecting King. “Clearly, this administration has no plans of backing away over the next fifteen months from the aggressive education reform agenda it began pursuing six years ago.”

Wise notes that King “pushed an aggressive state agenda of Common Core State Standards, more rigorous assessments, teacher evaluations, charter schools, and other education reforms” during his tenure as New York’s education commissioner. Wise expects King to continue advancing the Obama administration’s agenda, including opposing sequestration cuts to education programs, unveiling regulations to measure and improve the quality of teacher preparation programs, and pursuing new policy to address the school-to-prison pipeline.

“[King’s] dedicated heart comes to this new position encased in a body bearing numerous battle scars,” Wise writes. “His previous experience as commissioner of education for the state of New York will serve him well in the legislative wrestling ring that has been made of the nation’s capital.”

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