AP sources: Education Secretary Arne Duncan stepping down

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Secretary Of Education Will Step Down; Who's The New Guy?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arne Duncan, who followed President Barack Obama to Washington to serve as his education secretary, announced Friday he will step down following a seven-year tenure marked by a willingness to plunge head-on into the heated debate about the government's role in education.

Sidestepping a confirmation fight in Congress, Obama tapped a senior bureaucrat to run the department while leaving the role of secretary vacant for the remainder of his presidency.

RELATED: Obama unveils a scaled-back college search tool

Today a close friend of the president's, Duncan has been one of the longest-serving members in Obama's administration. After his departure in December, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be the sole member of Obama's Cabinet still in his original role. Duncan said he planned to return to Chicago, where his family is living, with his future plans uncertain.

"Being apart from my family has become too much of a strain, and it is time for me to step aside and give a new leader a chance," Duncan said in an email to staff obtained by The Associated Press.

In an unconventional move, Obama asked John King Jr., a senior Education Department official, to oversee the Education Department, but declined to nominate him to be secretary, which would require confirmation by the Republican-run Senate. Elevating King in an acting capacity spares Obama a potential clash with Senate Republicans over his education policies as his term draws to a close.

"We do not intend to nominate another candidate," said a White House official who wasn't authorized to comment by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. Republicans pointed out that Obama has previously complained that acting secretaries cannot fulfill all the duties of Senate-confirmed agency heads.

Duncan came to Washington from Chicago, where he ran the city's public school system. As part of the Chicago cohort that followed Obama to Washington, Duncan is one of few Cabinet members who has a personal relationship with the president. A basketball player at Harvard University who played professionally in Australia, Duncan was once a regular in Obama's weekend basketball games.

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who frequently clashed with Duncan as chairman of the Senate's education panel, praised Duncan as "one of the president's best appointments." Although he praised Duncan for promoting children's welfare, he alluded to deep disagreement over many of Duncan's initiatives.

"When we disagree, it is usually because he believes the path to effective teaching, higher standards, and real accountability is through Washington, D.C., and I believe it should be in the hands of states, communities, parents and classroom teachers," said Alexander, who served as education secretary under George H.W. Bush.

During his time as secretary, Duncan prioritized K-12 education and made his first initiative the administration's signature the Race to the Top program, in which states competed for federal grants. The program was the first of several Duncan initiatives that became embroiled in the fight over federal involvement in education. Critics blasted the department for linking federal money to the Common Core, a controversial set of curriculum guidelines that has become a symbol to some critics of federal overreach.

Duncan showed impatience with criticism of the program and the standards. In 2014, he cast critics as "white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were, and that's pretty scary." Duncan later said he regretted the "clumsy phrasing."

In his previous role at the Education Department, King oversaw preschool through high school education and managed the department's operations, holding the peculiar title of delegated deputy secretary. He served earlier as state education commissioner in New York, running the state's public schools and expansive system of state colleges and universities.

"John comes to this role with a record of exceptional accomplishment as a lifelong educator — a teacher, a school leader, and a leader of school systems," Duncan said.

Click through to see more of Arne Duncan:

7 PHOTOS
Arne Duncan
See Gallery
AP sources: Education Secretary Arne Duncan stepping down
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (L) listens while US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting with the Council of the Great City Schools Leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke about the education budget. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 27: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan waits to be introduced prior to speaking to students at School Without Walls August 27, 2013 in Washington, DC. Duncan participated in an event to discuss '50 Years of Struggle: Youth Driving Economics, Education, and Social Change,' which was to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
TAKOMA PARK, MD - MARCH 01: Education Secretary Arne Duncan (L) and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (R) read the Dr. Seuss book 'Green Eggs and Ham' to students enrolled in a Head Start program at Rolling Terrace Elementary School March 1, 2013 in Takoma Park, Maryland. Duncan and Sebelius toured the school in an effort to highlight U.S. President Barack Obama's proposals to expand high-quality learning opportunities as mentioned in his State of the Union speech. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan drives against rapper Ne-Yo during the Sprint All-Star Celebrity Game on center court at Jam Session during the NBA All-Star Weekend on February 24, 2012 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 24: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Jesse Williams battle for position during the Sprint All-Star Celebrity Game on center court at Jam Session during the NBA All-Star Weekend on February 24, 2012 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 15: Keynote Speaker Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, makes some remarks at the 2011 AAPD Awards Gala at the Ronald Reagan Building on March 15, 201 at the 2011 AAPD Awards Gala at the Ronald Reagan Building on March 15, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

More from AOL.com:
McCarthy expresses regret for Benghazi comments
Marco Rubio: Putin is a 'gangster' and a 'thug' — and here's how I'd take him on
Hillary Clinton thinks Donald Trump is 'dangerous' because he appeals to 'worst instincts of human nature'

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners