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Secretary of Education to serve as official commencement speaker

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
March 13, 2014

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will serve as the official speaker at the May 14 undergraduate commencement at Sun Devil Stadium. Duncan was named to his cabinet position by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in January 2009. He is the ninth U.S. secretary of education.

Duncan's tenure as secretary has been marked by a number of significant accomplishments on behalf of American students and teachers. He helped to secure congressional support for President Obama's investments in education, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's $100 billion to fund 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. Duncan also assisted in obtaining an additional $10 billion to avoid teacher layoffs, eliminating student loan subsidies to banks and launching a $500 million national competition for early learning programs.

Under Duncan's leadership at the U.S. Department of Education, the nation’s Race to the Top program has the incentives, guidance and flexibility it needs to support reforms in states. The department also has 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. Duncan has led new efforts to encourage labor and management to work together as never before, and their new collaboration is helping to drive reform, strengthen teaching, create better educational options and improve learning. Additionally, during his tenure, the department has launched a comprehensive effort to transform the teaching profession.

In support of President Obama's goal for the U.S. to produce the highest percentage of college graduates by the year 2020, Duncan has helped secure increases in the Pell grant program to boost the number of young Americans attending college and receiving postsecondary degrees. He has begun 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 those in certain public service occupations, such as teachers, police officers and firefighters.

Prior to his appointment, Duncan served as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools for more than seven years, becoming the longest-serving, big-city education superintendent in the country. During that time, he won praise for uniting education reformers, teachers, principals and business stakeholders behind an aggressive education reform agenda. Those reforms 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’s efforts are 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. Also under his leadership, CPS was recognized for its efforts to bring top teaching talent into the city's classrooms, where the number of teachers applying for positions almost tripled.

Before joining CPS, Duncan ran the Ariel Education Initiative, focused on advancing educational opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas, from 1991 to 1998. He also has served on the boards of numerous education and community organizations, including Chicago Cares, Golden Apple Foundation, Jobs for America’s Graduates and Junior Achievement.

Duncan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and has served on the Board of Overseers for Harvard College and the Visiting Committees for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also played professional basketball in Australia from 1987 to 1991, where he worked with children who were wards of the state.