While test scores and graduation rates improved under Duncan, those gains were never enough for Chicago to compete with New York City, Boston, and other urban districts that have been recognized for their dramatic improvement. "Duncan's reign was really marked much more by opening the door for innovative ideas than it was for a strong, coherent policy solution," says Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Chicago district officials point out that the city's schools made notable progress during Duncan's seven-year tenure. Since 2001, when Duncan assumed control of the schools, the graduation rate has risen 8 percentage points to 55 percent, and the collegebound rate improved from 2004 to 2008—from 44 percent to 50 percent. Proficiency rates for elementary students are also up, from 38 percent to 65 percent. There is some disagreement, however, over whether state tests became easier after a redesign. Also, the city's elementary students still lag behind their state counterparts. The test-score gap between students with special needs and regular students also widened.
In his new role, Duncan will be under considerable pressure from two camps at odds over how to improve schools. One camp includes hard-charging reformers like D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee who support expanding charter schools and more teacher accountability. On the other end are the national teachers unions, which support a larger investment in teacher training and less emphasis on testing. President Bush's unpopular No Child Left Behind testing law was up for renewal in 2007, but Congress hasn't agreed yet on what improvements to make. Duncan is not expected to press for passage of a new version this year.
"His genius in Chicago was really finding ways to crack open that box rather than to lean in and re-engineer the whole system," says Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, referring to Duncan's collaborative approach to education reform. "One thing we don't know yet is whether he is going to take that same stance in D.C. [as education secretary] or whether he figures the job description has started to look different."
Corrected on :
- Born: Nov. 6, 1964
- Education: B.A., sociology, graduated magna cum laude, Harvard University, 1987
- Family: Wife, Karen, and two children, Claire, 7, and Ryan, 4
- Career Highlights: Played pro basketball in Australia, 1987-1991; director of the Ariel Education Initiative in Chicago, 1992-1998; chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, 2001-2009