Arne Duncan, the long-serving U.S. Education Secretary, announced to his staff he will step down by the end of 2015, leaving the Obama administration more than a year before the president’s term ends.
“After several months of commuting between my family in Chicago and my job here in D.C., I have made the decision to step down in December,” Duncan said in an internal email Oct. 2. “Serving the president in the work of expanding opportunity for students throughout this country has been the greatest honor of my life."
The announcement came as a surprise to many. Just two days ago, following a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Duncan implied he would stay until the Obama administration ends, mentioning the importance of the work ahead “in the fourth quarter.”
Duncan gave no explanation for his departure, but thanked his staff for their support in his email.
“I owe … profound thanks to each of you,” he said. “The work of this department is exceptionally ambitious — to ensure that every student in this country enjoys genuine opportunity to learn, to grow, to excel. As a comparatively small team, often under challenging conditions and timelines, our staff has continued to offer example after example of dedication beyond the call of duty. I’m honored to have led you.”
Many say Duncan has been one of the most influential education secretaries to date who significantly expanded the federal role in the nation’s public schools. Among other things, Duncan largely bypassed Congress to induce states to adopt landmark changes such as teacher evaluations and higher academic standards, helped facilitate rapid expansion of public charter schools, promoted Common Core State Standards in math and reading, and supported holding teachers accountable for student progress.
But Duncan’s tactics did not come without backlash. He has come under increasing criticism recently. Congress, in pending legislation, has moved to strip his power, and in July 2014 delegates of the National Education Association called on Duncan to resign.
President Obama has selected John B. King Jr., who currently acts as Deputy Secretary of Education, to replace Duncan.