Arne Duncan’s Legacy, in Onion Headlines

By Ross Brenneman — October 02, 2015 2 min read
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With the news that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be stepping down in December, there will likely be a lot of essays—here at Education Week and elsewhere—about his legacy and what his successor, John King, needs to do, etc. Will anyone’s view of Duncan’s overall tenure change? It’s probably too soon to tell.

One of the more subtle (perhaps) critics of the Duncan Era was The Onion, “America’s Finest News Source” for satire. Sure, we could remember quotes from the actual Arne Duncan—the “white suburban moms” thing, or that one Hurricane Katrina comment—or dwell on the comments of some of his most outspoken critics, like the American Federation of Teachers or the National Education Association.

All that stuff has been covered, though. Here, then, is a look back at the Arne Duncan that could have been, or even was, depending on your perspective:

  • Nation’s School Systems Held Back A Year: “Having continued to display learning deficits and a failure to reach basic educational milestones, the nation’s school systems will be asked to repeat the academic year, sources confirmed Friday.”
  • Report: Watching Episode of ‘Downton Abbey’ Counts As Reading Book: “It’s a period piece with British accents and drama that hinges on each character’s place within an aristocratic peerage system, so needless to say, viewing one show from beginning to end is basically the same as reading a book,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
  • New Education Initiative Replaces K-12 Curriculum With Single Standardized Test: “Officials confirmed the test will consist mostly of multiple-choice questions, though it will also include an essay section in which students will be able to choose from one of several prompts, ranging from ‘Describe the American system of federalism,’ to ‘If I could be any animal in the world, I would be a...,’ to “Write a book report on Lois Lowry’s The Giver.’”
  • Arne Duncan Spends Visit To Local Elementary School Looking At UFO Books In Library: “Hey, Mrs. Keck! Did you know that more than 6,000 people see a UFO every year?” an awestruck Duncan reportedly asked librarian Joanne Keck after finishing a book titled Mysteries Of The Cosmos: Extraterrestrials And Flying Saucers.
  • Arne Duncan Stressed About Preparing For Standardized Secretary Of Education Exam: “I know I’ve got the stuff on FSA loans down, but it’s super unrealistic for them to think I’ll memorize every little thing about federal lunch voucher requirements—what if I’m wrong, though?” Duncan said of the yearly four-hour exam, adding that he wasn’t a very good test-taker to begin with and that even thinking about how he would get through the essay portion in just 50 minutes was making him anxious.

(There might also have been one that featured an image of Arne Duncan that might burn into your mind if you look at it too long.)

A lot of the jokes are softballs—even The Onion might not want to spend time trying to make jokes about NCLB waivers—but to the extent that the fake news organization reflects the mentality of some parts of the progressive wing of the country, you might be able to enjoy some of the discontent.

More retrospectives on Arne Duncan’s tenure:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.