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Former U.S. Secretary of Education (2009 - 2016)

Arne Duncan: Biography at a Glance

  • Served as the U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama
  • Helped secure congressional support for significant investments in education, focused billions of dollars to transform struggling schools
  • Served as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2008
  • Senior fellow at University of Chicago and board member of Communities in School
  • Head of the Chicago office for the Emerson Collective
Former U.S. Secretary of Education (2009 - 2016)

Arne Duncan served as the U.S. Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, a tenure that was marked by a number of significant accomplishments on behalf of American students and teachers.

He is currently a senior fellow at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, a board member for Communities In Schools, and Head of the Chicago office for the education group, Emerson Collective.

Duncan was appointed Secretary of Education on January 20, 2009 by President Barack Obama, a post he held up until to January 1, 2016. During this time, Duncan managed to secure congressional support for President Obama’s significant investments in education. These initiatives included the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which put $100 billion toward funding 325,000 teaching jobs, increases in Pell grants, reform efforts such as Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation, and interventions in low-performing schools. Additionally, Duncan helped secure an additional $10 billion to avoid teacher layoffs, the elimination of student loan subsidies to banks, and a $500 million national competition for early learning programs. Under Duncan’s leadership at the Department, the Race to the Top program was given the incentives, guidance, and flexibility it needed to support reforms in states. The Department also focused billions of dollars to transform struggling schools, prompting nearly 1,000 low-performing schools nationwide to recruit new staff, adopt new teaching methods and add learning time.

In support of President Obama’s goal for the United States to produce the highest percentage of college graduates by the year 2020, Duncan helped secure increases in the Pell grant program to boost the number of young Americans attending college and receiving postsecondary degrees. He instituted new efforts to ensure that colleges and universities provide more transparency around graduation, job placement and student loan default rates. With the income-based repayment program introduced during Duncan’s tenure, student loan payments are being reduced for college graduates in low-paying jobs, and loans will be forgiven after 10 years for persons in certain public service occupations, such as teachers, police officers and firefighters.

Before becoming secretary of education, Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), a position he held from June 2001 through December 2008. In that time, he won praise for uniting education reformers, teachers, principals and business stakeholders behind an aggressive education reform agenda that included opening more than 100 new schools, expanding after-school and summer learning programs, closing down underperforming schools, increasing early childhood and college access, dramatically boosting the caliber of teachers, and building public-private partnerships around a variety of education initiatives. Duncan is credited with significantly raising student performance on national and state tests, increasing graduation rates and the numbers of students taking Advanced Placement courses, and boosting the total number of scholarships secured by CPS students to more than $150 million.

Prior to joining the Chicago Public Schools, from 1992 to 1998, Duncan ran the nonprofit education foundation Ariel Education Initiative, which helped fund a college education for a class of inner-city children under the I Have A Dream program. He was part of a team that later started a new public elementary school built around a financial literacy curriculum, the Ariel Community Academy, which today ranks among the top elementary schools in Chicago. From 1987 to 1991, Duncan played professional basketball in Australia, where he also worked with children who were wards of the state.

Duncan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1987, after majoring in sociology. He was co-captain of Harvard’s basketball team and was named a first team Academic All-American.

In 2016, Duncan returned to his hometown on a mission to improve the lives of young adults as managing partner at Emerson Collective, an organization headed by Laurene Powell Jobs. At Emerson Collective, Duncan works with local business leaders, community organizers, and nonprofit groups, to create job and life opportunities for disconnected youth between the ages of 17 and 24.


“He engaged with our students in an honest, caring way and clearly enjoys interacting with people. His speech, which was personal and powerful, was both an invitation to ponder how we can do things better and a call to action. Highly recommended.”

DePauw University

“Arne was great. He had really concrete information to share on stage and he was a pleasure to work with behind the scenes.”

The Connecticut Forum

“Arne was great. His message really resonated with the audience, and they were appreciative that he took open Q&A, when not many keynotes are willing to do such a thing.”

American Marketing Association

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