Secretary school Education

Education Secretary Duncan’s children to go to Chicago private school he attended

Education Secretary Arne Duncan grew up in Chicago and attended the private, prestigious University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. The pre-K-12 Lab Schools are progressive institutions that, according to its Web site, “ignite and nurture an enduring spirit of scholarship, curiosity, creativity, and confidence” and “value learning experientially, exhibiting kindness, and honoring diversity.”

The teachers there are unionized and respected by administrators. President Obama’s two daughters attended the school before moving to Washington in 2009, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children are enrolled there now. And in the fall, Duncan’s children will be attending Lab, too, while his wife works there.

Duncan’s wife, Karen, and his two children, Claire and Ryan, recently moved back to Chicago, eager to restart life in the city where they lived before then President-elect Barack Obama asked his old friend in 2008 to run the U.S. Education Department. Before that, Duncan had served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools from 2001 through December 2008 and instituted reforms — including closing schools, performance pay for teachers, and charter schools — that never resulted in the significant system turnaround he began demanding of other systems as education secretary.

Duncan will remain in Washington D.C., serving out the Obama administration’s second term before rejoining his family in Chicago. The move has been in the works for some time; Karen Duncan was seen at the Lab Schools in late January with her two children (who “shadowed” other students through a school day, which is commonly done by students preparing to attend a particular school).

[Even as Congress moves to strip his power, Arne Duncan holds his ground]

Dorie Nolt, Duncan’s press secretary, said in an e-mail:

After more than six years living just outside Washington, D.C., Secretary Duncan’s family moved back to Chicago recently. His wife, Karen, is ready to resume her full-time career in education and will work at her former employer, the University of Chicago Laboratory School, where their children will attend school. Secretary Duncan will continue to work and maintain a residence in D.C. but commute to spend weekends with his family, as many cabinet Secretaries have done. Secretary Duncan remains committed to his work in the Cabinet and will continue to serve at the pleasure of the President.

Since 2009, the Duncan family had lived in Virginia, where the two children attended public schools in Arlington. In an April 2015 interview with, Duncan was asked what he has learned about the U.S. public education system from being a father as opposed to being education secretary, and he said:

“The only hard part is fitting into those little chairs with the desks. That can be tough. My children have been to schools in both Chicago and Arlington, Virginia. First and foremost, I’m a dad – that’s the most important thing in my life by far. And I’m extraordinarily thankful that my children are able to go to wonderful public schools with great principals and teachers who are really committed. My wife and I have been really pleased with the quality of the education our children have received and we just try to do what we can to be good partners to their teachers.”

But now his children will attend a progressive private school in Chicago, a school that does not follow key school reform policies that his Education Department has set for public schools.

It does not, for example, use the Common Core State Standards (though many teachers there support them). It does not bombard its students with standardized tests or spend weeks each semester in test-prep mode. It does not evaluate teachers by student standardized test scores. In 2013, 20 Lab teachers signed a letter to Duncan protesting his policies that promote standardized test-based school reform. Also among the signatories were teachers from the Ariel Community Academy, a public school founded by a team of people that included Duncan.

Why are the Duncans sending their children to this private school?

Duncan’s wife, Karen, used to work at Lab and has rejoined the staff in the middle school admissions department. Nolt attributed the following quote to Duncan: “Given my not living in Chicago, we’re trying to keep things as simple as possible.”

There is not a single thing unreasonable about Duncan wanting his children to go to a school that is logistically easy for his family. Who would begrudge any parents who want to send their children to a good school that is easy for them to reach? And who would begrudge parents who want their children to attend the same school for simple logistic reasons? Nobody I know.

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