Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan is considered the most powerful Secretary of Education ever, for one reason: money. Unlike the past eight Secretaries, and because of the Great Recession, the Education Department received a windfall 100 billion stimulus dollars to invest in public schools. To create incentives for President Obama’s reforms, Duncan put 4.35 billion of these dollars into a fund he named "Race to the Top” and then invited states to compete for these funds. To be eligible, states had to strike down laws that were obstacles to the administration’s reforms. Because the Great Recession left states financially strapped, their cooperation to change laws was unprecedented.
Before his appointment as Education Secretary, Duncan ran the Chicago Public Schools. As CEO, he was the very model of a modern education leader, in charge of a mayor-controlled school system. Proponents of this new model of leadership make this case: if a mayor takes away authority for a city's schools from the elected Board of Education and gives that authority to an appointed, business-style executive, then that executive can by-pass the conflicting groups in the educational bureaucracy that hinder progress. The new leader can make top-down decisions that will allow rapid change and, therefore, big gains in student achievement. In practice the model achieved rapid change, but the gains in student achievement did not materialize as expected. To those who believe schools should be improved using free-market reforms like choice, competition, and accountability, Arne Duncan is their champion.
Because of his control over Race to the Top funds, the support he receives from billionaire corporate executives, and his full court press on education reforms, Arne Duncan is PCM’s selection for the most influential education leader in America.