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Obama on Arne Duncan: 'America is going to be better off for what he has done'


Here are President Obama's remarks today about the resignation of his good friend and Education Secretary Arne Duncan:

Arne Duncan is one of my longest-serving Cabinet Secretaries, and he’s been a friend for a lot longer than that. So it’s with some regret and sorrow that I’ve accepted his decision to return to our hometown of Chicago. After more than six years of living in Washington, Arne’s wonderful wife, Karen, and their excellent kids, Claire and Ryan -- who are also buddies of mine -- wanted to move back home.  And that’s meant in the interim a lot of time apart.

So I’ll be honest -- I pushed Arne to stay.  Sorry, guys.  But I also know from personal experience how hard it is to be away from your family on a sustained basis.  So while I will miss Arne deeply, he’s more than earned the right to return home.

Take a look at what Arne has accomplished over the last six and a half years. He’s one of the longest-serving Secretaries of Education in our history -- and one of the more consequential. In just a few years, Arne and his team have delivered some incredible results at every stage of the educational experience. More than 30 states have upped their investment in early childhood education.

Nearly every state in America has raised standards for teaching and learning, and expectations for what our kids can learn, and our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. We’ve helped millions more families afford college, and more Americans are graduating from college than ever before.  And that’s just scratching the surface.

Arne has done more to bring our educational system -- sometimes kicking and screaming -- into the 21st century than anybody else.  America is going to be better off for what he has done.  It's going to be more competitive and more prosperous.  It is going to be more equal and more upwardly mobile.  It’s a record that I truly believe no other Education Secretary can match.  Arne bleeds this stuff.  He cares so much about our kids. And he's been so passionate about this work.  And everybody who interacts with him, including people who disagree with him on some issues, never questions the genuineness and heart that he has brought to this job.

So I couldn't be prouder of him.  And, for good measure, Arne also holds the record for most points scored in an NBA All-Star game. And he is my favorite partner in pickup basketball -- the smartest player I know -- even though he’s very slow -- -- and has no hops.  He knows it's true. I will say, watching Ryan, by the way, that the son will soon be surpassing the father because this young man has got game.

Now, keep in mind, none of this change has been easy, and we still have a long way to go.  One of the things about education is that it doesn’t deliver results tomorrow or the next day; this is a decade-long or longer proposition. We plant seeds now; we make changes now; and we watch each successive class benefit from these reforms. And it goes in fits and starts, and we have a decentralized system -- that's how our education tradition evolved. So it's not easy and it's not quick, but we are making progress. And we're not going to stop in these last 15 months.

And that's why it's so important and why I think we're very lucky that, even as Arne steps down, we've got an exceptionally talented educator to step in -- and that is Dr. John King.

John is already on Arne’s leadership team. He’s been an educator all his life -- a teacher, a principal, a leader of schools, the New York State’s education chief.  He’s the right man to lead the department.  He shares our commitment to preparing every child for success in a more innovative and competitive world.  He’s got a great team already at the Department of Education of which I am very, very proud.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.