Arne Duncan served as Secretary of Education under former President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2015. He is a Managing Partner at Emerson Collective, a Palo Alto-based advocacy group.
Harvard Political Review: What is your biggest regret from your tenure as Secretary of Education? What do you wish you had done?
Arne Duncan: Lots of regrets, and lots of things that I am proud I have done. The critique I always get, and there is validity to the critique, running both [Chicago Public Schools] and [Department of Education] is that I went too fast. I was pushing too hard, too much change too quick. My honest self-critique is that I went too slow, and if I could do it again, there are places when I backed off a little bit, did not go fast enough or hard enough, whether that was a lack of courage or I was trying to find some compromise or some political middle ground, and that is important, too.
But I feel this huge sense of urgency for kids across the country who we are not serving well. We have to get better faster. We have to accelerate and make some change. Maybe no one agrees with me, but my personal self-critique is that where I have regret, it is that we did not do more faster. There is a downside to pushing too hard. I am not naïve there.
In terms of specific items we did not get done, we did a ton with early childhood [education] but nowhere near enough. We put a billion [dollars] in. That was huge. I would have loved to have done 20 billion. There are so many kids starting kindergarten each year that are not ready.
We got nothing done in terms of immigration reform, which for me would have meant college scholarships, access to financial aid for DREAMers. Zero. That is devastating.
The biggest failure was post-Sandy Hook massacre, which was my hardest day and President Obama’s hardest day. We both talked a lot, but we got nothing done on the topic of gun control. Those are the three policy items where we failed, and there are real consequences to all of those failures, for kids and ultimately for our country.
Image Source: Flickr/US Department of Education
This interview has been edited or condensed.