For over six years, schools and school children have had a champion in Arne Duncan.
Setting aside the political ups and downs that accompany tremendous change and challenging policy debates, Secretary Duncan has demonstrated a strong commitment to education through his longstanding tenure as our U.S. Secretary of Education.
From his humble acceptance speech to serve in the Obama administration to his deferential resignation, he has continually directed the dialogue around public education toward a focus on how our decisions will affect children.
Related: What Arne Duncan did to American Education and whether it will last
In a time of national crisis, Duncan began his tenure by advocating for federal dollars to stave off impending layoffs in schools across the country. As a result, hundreds of thousands of teacher’s jobs and school staff positions were spared.
Teachers have long known that when you set a high bar for students, they strive to reach that bar and can accomplish far more than they previously thought possible. Teachers also know that all students deserve to have high standards regardless of their race, socio-economic status, or zip code. Despite many years with several failed attempts, state-led efforts to create comparable, rigorous standards for all students were reinvigorated by Duncan’s political courage. Today, federal investments have incentivized the vast majority of states to transition to higher learning standards, moving away from rote memorization in exchange for lessons based on problem-solving and critical thinking. His support for higher standards was the right thing to do for our students.
His leadership in this administration has led to programs that focus relentlessly on improving educational equity. Programs such as School Improvement Grants, the Investing in Innovation fund, and Promise Neighborhoods have made high-needs students and schools communities a priority by investing in everything from whole-school transformation to results-driven support programs and wrap-around services for high-needs school communities. Mixed results remain but promising successes have emerged that lay the groundwork for more state-level innovation in our country’s lowest performing schools.
Duncan has led the U.S. Department of Education with courage and a focus on equity. He used this focus to spur more state and district-level change than any previous Secretary of Education and as a result the conversation has transitioned from what is impossible to scaling programs and resources that we know work in order to reach more students.
We still have a lot of work to do and bridges to be built. Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act – a priority of Duncan’s since he arrived in D.C. – remains an open question. However, Duncan’s work has set a strong foundation for continued progress under the steady hand of his successor, John King.
In recent remarks at the Golden Apple Foundation in Chicago, Secretary Duncan spoke passionately and without equivocation about his own experience dealing with the personal impact of violence in Chicago.
He took a personal tone in explaining that children need more than just high-quality reading and math – they need a community of adults working together to do whatever it takes to give them a future.
Secretary Duncan can rest easy knowing that across the country, he has helped generate a healthy sense of urgency for effective, equitable educational services for all children. Federal, state, local and school-based leaders have elevated education among their priorities for the future of our country. Whatever he may do next, I am confident and grateful that he will remain a leader in this movement.
Evan Stone is the co-founder and co-CEO of Educators 4 Excellence.