Arne Duncan, Obama’s Education Secretary Since the Beginning, Is Stepping Down

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, speaks as President Obama looks on Sept. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, speaks as President Obama looks on Sept. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Edu­ca­tion Sec­ret­ary Arne Duncan in­tends to step down in Decem­ber, a White House of­fi­cial con­firmed to Na­tion­al Journ­al.

Pres­id­ent Obama will an­nounce on Fri­day that Duncan will give up his title and that the pres­id­ent has asked John B. King Jr., the cur­rent act­ing Deputy Sec­ret­ary of Edu­ca­tion, to serve as his re­place­ment.

The pres­id­ent does not plan to form­ally nom­in­ate King to take the top spot at the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment, a pro­cess that would sub­ject King to a po­ten­tially con­ten­tious con­firm­a­tion by Con­gress. In­stead, King is ex­pec­ted to serve as act­ing Sec­ret­ary of Edu­ca­tion, a title that would al­low him to helm the de­part­ment without go­ing through a form­al con­firm­a­tion. Janet Bass, a spokes­per­son from the Amer­ic­an Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers said the or­gan­iz­a­tion—which had been crit­ic­al of King’s ten­ure as New York State edu­ca­tion com­mis­sion­er—will re­lease a state­ment later in the day.

Very few of Obama’s ori­gin­al cab­in­et mem­bers re­main. With Duncan step­ping down, Ag­ri­cul­ture Sec­ret­ary Tom Vil­sack, the pres­id­ent’s chief of staff Denis Mc­Donough and Shaun Donovan, the former Sec­ret­ary of the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment and cur­rent head of the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget, are all that are left as cab­in­et mem­bers who have served since the start of Obama’s pres­id­ency.

Duncan no­ti­fied De­part­ment of Edu­ca­tion staff of his in­ten­ded resig­na­tion in a let­ter, a copy of which was ob­tained by National Journ­al. Duncan re­ferred to the news as “bit­ter­sweet,” say­ing: “Serving the Pres­id­ent in the work of ex­pand­ing oppor­tun­ity for stu­dents throughout this coun­try has been the greatest hon­or of my life.”

Duncan ex­plained that sep­ar­a­tion from his fam­ily ul­ti­mately led to his de­cision. “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. I haven’t talked with any­one about what I’ll do next, and prob­ably won’t for a little while – I’m simply re­turn­ing to Chica­go to live with my fam­ily. I ima­gine my next steps will con­tin­ue to in­volve the work of ex­pand­ing op­por­tun­ity for chil­dren, but I have no idea what that will look like yet.” Duncan noted in the let­ter that he has been commuting “for sev­er­al months” to and from his fam­ily in Chica­go and his job in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Duncan’s ten­ure as sec­ret­ary has in­spired vit­ri­ol from both teach­ers’ uni­ons and school choice act­iv­ists, along with an intense sense of loy­alty from his staff and sup­port­ers. In a re­cent in­ter­view with Politico, Un­der­sec­ret­ary for Edu­ca­tion Ted Mitchell choked up while talk­ing about his ex­per­i­ence work­ing for Duncan. “I can’t let you leave without telling you what a priv­ilege it has been to work with Arne,” he said.

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