Text of Obama’s Farewell Speech to Duncan, and Duncan’s Response
The following is my transcription of the October 02, 2015, announcement of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s resignation, offered by President Obama and followed by a response from Duncan. The transcription is of this 9 1/2-minute video clip provided by Fox News. (Note that Fox News ends the clip before John King speaks.)
[Obama speaking] Arne Duncan is one of my longest serving Cabinet secretaries, and he’s been a friend for a lot longer than that. So, it’s with some regret and sorrow that I’ve accepted his decision to return home to our hometown of Chicago.
After more than six years of living in Washington, Arne’s wonderful wife, Karen, and their excellent kids, Claire and Ryan, who are also buddies of mine, wanted to move back home, and that’s meant in the interim a lot of time apart. So, I’ll be honest, I pushed Arne to stay– sorry guys. Uh, but, I also know from personal experience how hard it is to be away from your family on a sustained basis. So, while I will miss Arne deeply, he has more than earned the right to return home.
Take a look at what Arne’s accomplished over the last six and a half years: He’s one of the longest-serving secretaries of education in our history– and one of the more consequential. In just a few years, Arne and his team have delivered some incredible results at every stage of the educational experience. More than 30 states have upped their investment in early childhood education. Nearly every state in American has raised standards for teaching and learning and expectations for what our kids can learn. And our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high.
We helped millions more families afford college. More Americans are graduating from college than ever before. And that’s just scratching the surface. Arne’s done more to bring our educational system– sometimes kicking and screaming– into the 21st century than anyone else. America’s going to be better off for what he has done. It’s going to be more competitive and more prosperous. It is going to be more equal and more upwardly-mobile. It’s a record I truly believe no other education secretary can match.
Um. Arne bleeds this stuff. He cares so much about our kids, and he has been so passionate about this work. And everybody who interacts with him, including people who disagree with him on some issues never questions, uh, the genuineness and heart that he has brought to this job. So, I couldn’t be more proud of him, and for good measure, Arne also holds the record for most points scored in an NBA All-star game. [mild laughter and applause]
[Duncan’s expression is somber]
And he is my favorite partner in pick-up basket. Uh, the smartest player I know. Even though he’s very slow. [Laughter; Duncan smiles.] And he has no hops. [Duncan say something, inaudible.] He knows it’s true. I will say, watching Ryan, by the way, that the son will soon be surpassing the father because this young man has got game.
Now keep in mind, none of this change has been easy. And we still have a long way to go. One of the things about education is that it doesn’t deliver results tomorrow or the next day. This is a decade-long or longer proposition. We plant seeds now; we make changes now, and we watch each successive class benefit from these reforms. And it goes in fits and starts, and we have a decentralized system. That’s how our education tradition evolved. So, it’s not easy. And it’s not quick. Um, but, we are making progress. And, we’re not going to stop in these last, uh, 15 months.
And that’s why it’s so important, and why I think we’re very lucky, that even as Arne steps down, we’ve got an exceptionally talented educator to step in. And that is Dr. John King. Uh, John is already on Arne’s leadership team. He’s been an educator all his life: a teacher, a principal, a leader of schools, a New York State’s education chief. He’s the right man to lead the Department. He shares our commitment to preparing every child for success in a more innovative and competitive world. Uh, uh, he’s got a great team already in the Department of Education, of which I am very, very proud. His family is equally cool and good looking [laughter], and he has equally exceptional children. Uh, and I know that, uh, together we’re going to be able to continue to do great things on behalf of our kids.
So, Arne and John, I want to wish both of you a hearty congratulations and good luck. And now I’m going to let them say a few words, and then I’m just going to make a few remarks before I take some questions from the press. Start with Arne.
[Duncan comes to microphone.]
[Duncan speaking] I’ve cried more today than I have in a while, so I’ll try not to cry. I’ll start with the President and when he asked us to come to DC and work with him, that was about a one-minute conversation with my wife. And it wasn’t that we wanted to leave Chicago; it wasn’t [necessarily that I wanted to be] education secretary. Uh, I just wanted to be on his team. I believed so much in what he was about, what he stood for. I have to say, seven and a half years later, my admiration is only greater. And it’s pretty remarkable and it’s important for folks to know that every hard decision, his ultimate question was, “Was it the right thing to do for kids?” in challenging us and our team to fight for kids every single day. And often that was a hard political decision, and that was never a factor. His passion, his commitment, was absolutely extraordinary. For me, it was not the political leadership, it was not the educational leadership; it was the moral leadership. And, I just cannot tell you, Mr. President, personally, what an unbelievable honor it was just to spend some time, and for those everyday who see, but for those who watched him last night talking about the horrendous massacre, gun massacre in Oregon, and how preventable these things are, we need that motivation; please keep it in mind.
Um, to our team, the team you have at the White House, Cecelia, Dennis, Val, and others, it’s been extraordinary to work with these, they, I don’t say this lightly, I think our team, um, at Department of Education is stronger than it’s ever been. And you never know over seven or eight years how those teams will go, and you have the B team towards the end. Well, I think we have the A team, and the combination of being able to work with the White House, Shaun, Sylvia, so many folks are here, Anthony. Um, we have the team in place, and I’m just extraordinarily hopeful and confident about what they can do together. Um Emma, Ted, and the rest of the crew.
Said a little bit about John. Folks know that for all of us, this work is very, very personal. For the President, it’s very personal. For me, it’s very personal. John was one of those kids that probably shouldn’t be in a room like this if you look at the stereotypes. And, not the easiest time growing up. He’ll tell you more about it. Lost both of his parents at a pretty early age. Went to live with his brother; that wasn’t very easy, either. But he had an amazing teacher who saw something in him and kept him going. And today, he gets to stand here with the President. and so many times, we as a society, write off kids that look like John and come from places like John. And just seeing what he can accomplish, I think that’s what drives all of us. We know there’s so many other kids out there that we can reach. And while I’m deeply, deeply sad to be leaving, I’m extraordinarity happy and thankful and proud that John’s going to carry on this work with the team.
Um, I quickly want to try and close it here, but I want to thank my parents here. My dad was a lifelong educator at the University of Chicago, [DR. Elliot Fife?] [Duncan goes silent; choked up; Obama pats him on the back]. My mother started a [inaudible] tutor program before we were born, and raised all of us as part of that program, and that changed our lives. All our lives, we saw what kids could do if they were given a chance, and that’s why we do this work today. [choked up] To be able to see what she did at one little corner of 46th and Greenwood, as now I have a chance over the past six and a half years to try and have an impact around the nation because this man [nods to Obama] gave us a chance.
Um, for my family, I can’t tell you how much, how much it means to us. Um, and finally, just to my family, and, I love this work. I love this team. I love the President, and I love the chance to serve. The only thing I love more is you guys. [choked up] Can’t wait to come home and see a couple more track meets and maybe get to coach Ryan a little bit, and maybe have a few more dinners, and maybe go to a movie someday and [inaudible] [laughter]. It’s, it’s been too long, and so, it’s, uh. It’s been an amazing, amazing journey, and I fell so proud, so lucky, to have been a part of this team. Mr. President, thanks for creating the climate so that all of us here, all of us here, could have the impact we did, and, um, we could never repay, never repay the debt of gratitude we all feel to you, so, thank you so much. And I’ll turn it over to John.
In closing, some observations:
First, Obama and Duncan are obviously disconnected from the trauma that their market-driven, test-score-obsessed education agenda has wreaked upon a public education system about which neither has any firsthand, substantive knowledge.
Second, even as Obama credits Duncan with successfully enticing states to sign on for Common Core, he does not call it by name because the name is politically toxic. What is clear is that Obama credits “federal” Duncan with “state led” Common Core.
Third, Duncan is more openly emotional about leaving Obama than he ever was about any potential consequence of trying to deliver traditional public education into the greedy, under-regulated hands of charter operators, or that he was over insulting those who did not accept his Common Core and common-assessment push.
Fourth, Duncan also chokes up when he talks of his mother’s tutoring as his inspiration in his role as secretary, but he fails to note that his mother’s livelihood was never connected to the standardized test scores of her students– one of his pet policies.
Fifth, in a post that I published on October 02, 2015, regarding Duncan’s resignation, I raise the question of whether Duncan’s leaving were the result of Obama’s believing it to be time for Duncan to go. However, in the above speech, Obama says he asked Duncan to stay. That noted, I am not yet willing to completely dismiss that there could be some political expediency in the mix related to Duncan’s premature exit. Duncan was liked only in the Beltway. I am hard pressed to believe his departure is not significantly influenced by this fact.
Finally, given that Obama’s remarks about the accomplishments of both Duncan and King are divorced from reality, one might more reliably turn to this July 2015 Salon article by Jeff Bryant for a hefty dose of Duncan reality, and for King reality, see Valerie Strauss’s take in Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.