Emphasizing the Right to Learn

A plush office chair adorns Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's spacious office, but he says he rarely uses it. A glance at his appointment calendar tells us why he can't stay seated long. In a single day, Duncan can cram in a White House meeting, a round robin of major TV network interviews and a meet-and-greet at a local school.

Getting an appointment with Duncan is challenging, and it's also a challenge to put Duncan in an ideological box. Though he champions education reforms favored by Republicans such as charter schools and teacher merit pay, his opposition to school vouchers and his solid working relationship with teachers unions keep him in good standing with his Democratic allies.

The key to Duncan's success seems to be that his interest in education runs much deeper than ideological posturing. Duncan has never held down a job as a teacher or principal. He doesn't hold graduate degrees, and his Harvard undergraduate degree is in sociology. Yet, to his core, Duncan believes that a lack of education can have deadly consequences, and his career following his days playing pro basketball in Australia has been focused on expanding access to quality education at all levels.

Duncan's tenure of nearly eight years as CEO of Chicago public schools was marked by numerous successes. He aggressively shut down underperforming schools and fired entire school staffs, yet he found a way to stay on speaking terms with the Chicago teachers union.

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