The fate of current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan — should President Barack Obama win a second term — has been uncertain for some time. It’s no longer a mystery; in a National Journal exclusive, via Yahoo! News, revealed that Duncan is prepared to stay in his position for a second term.
However, his focus during the last four years on secondary education, will shift to combating the growing problem of higher education student debt. He also plans launch initiatives to double the number of college graduates in the U.S. By 2020.
Duncan joked that he has been prepared to stay until the President “got sick of” him — not something that will likely happen any time soon, as the two men have served together most of their political lives dating back to their starts in Chicago. Furthermore, and perhaps in part due to his closeness the President, Duncan has influence beyond matters concerning the Department of Education. According to National Journal’s Fawn Johnson, his stamp is on almost all major domestic policy moves of the administration.
In education, Duncan was one of the major influences behind the Race to the Top grant program. The program, with goals of encouraging education reform that underscore the commitment of reformers like Duncan, is an effort to get states to look at how their school systems might be improved, and requires minimal federal investment.
Well over 30 states have embarked on some sort of school-reform efforts in hopes of winning one of the grants. Nineteen states and several districts have won them. Duncan and Obama also are enormously proud that 46 states have signed on to the Common Core State Standards for K-12 schools; they believe Race to the Top deserves some of the credit for that achievement.
Duncan’s partiality to reformer programs like vouchers and school choice have put the administration in conflict with one the strongest supporters of the Democratic Party — the labor unions. Although administration officials, Duncan included, didn’t comment on the recently-concluded Chicago teachers strike, the fact that the union’s opposition was a city government headed up by former President’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, speaks volumes. Emanuel famously shares many education-related ideas and approaches with both Obama and Duncan.
The administration didn’t touch those issues, which are some of the thorniest questions in education. How teachers are treated, paid, and evaluated are issues that could dangerously divide Democrats. When the Chicago strike started, Duncan issued a brief statement saying only that he hoped the parties resolved their differences.