Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has returned to Chicago on a mission to reduce gun violence by improving the lives of young adults in his hometown. As managing partner at Emerson Collective — a social justice organization established by Laurene Powell Jobs — Duncan partners with local business leaders, community organizers and nonprofit groups to create job and life opportunities for disconnected young men between the ages of 17 and 24 living in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.
Duncan has devoted his career to expanding opportunities for young people, most notably through reforming public education by focusing on pioneering a cradle-to-career pathway to advance socio-economic mobility. His passion for educational equity began in his family, where he volunteered alongside his mom tutoring young children in her after school program in Kenwood, Chicago. Many disadvantaged children in the program became successful engineers, teachers, doctors and actors, anchoring Duncan’s conviction that with the right nurturing and support, any child can learn, thrive and excel — regardless of poverty, challenges at home and neighborhood violence.
This transformative experience inspired Duncan to major in sociology at Harvard, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1987. At Harvard, Duncan also served as co-captain of the basketball team and was named a first team Academic All-American.
From 2001 to 2008, Duncan served as chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. He won praise for uniting the city’s stakeholders behind an education agenda that included opening 100 new schools; expanding early childhood, after-school, summer learning, and college access programs; dramatically boosting the caliber of teachers; and building public-private partnerships around a variety of education initiatives. Throughout his tenure, Duncan championed early childhood education, elevating its importance as a cornerstone of economic growth and crime prevention. His ROI focus promoted school readiness as the best investment for Chicago’s future, convincing many legislators to expand access to preschool and support his goals for cultivating the pivotal pre-Kindergarten skill set.
From 2009-2015, Duncan served as secretary of education in the Obama Administration. He is credited with many breakthroughs, including an unprecedented partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services. With a collective focus on early childhood issues from a social, educational and health perspective, Duncan spearheaded increases in federal and state funding; expanded programs and family services; and raised the bar for teacher training, development curricula and family engagement. During Duncan’s tenure, the high school graduation rate reached a record high of 83.2 percent, and 30 states improved their early childhood initiatives, benefitting disadvantaged children in red and blue states alike.