Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Arne Duncan (2009- ): Secretary of Education

Arne Duncan was born on November 6, 1964, and raised in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. He is the son of a Starkey Duncan, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago and Susan Duncan, who founded and ran an after-school program serving African American youth on Chicago's South Side. Duncan spent a great deal of his childhood tutoring and playing basketball with the children at his mother's center.

Duncan majored in sociology, graduating magnum cum laude from Harvard University in 1987. He was the co-captain of Harvard's basketball team and was named a first team Academic All-American. After completing his studies at Harvard, Duncan played professional basketball in Australia with the Eastside Specters. While living in Australia, he worked with children who were wards of the state.

Upon returning to Chicago in 1992, Duncan became the director of Ariel Education Initiative, a program seeking to create educational opportunities for children on Chicago's South Side. In 1998, he began his work with the Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district with more than 400,000 students. He was appointed chief executive officer in 2001, a position he held until his recent appoint as secretary of the Department of Education in the administration of President Barack Obama.

Duncan gained a reputation for shaking up Chicago's public school--closing down under-performing schools, forging alliances with teachers' unions, supporting merit-pay initiatives for teachers, and increasing state test scores and graduation rates. It is expected he will bring these same expectations for performance and cooperation to Washington, D.C.