Education Secretary Arne Duncan to step down in December

Updated

Education Secretary Arne Duncan — an advocate for reform and, at times, a target for criticism from the left and the right — will be stepping down from his post in December.

Duncan is one of just two remaining Cabinet secretaries who have served in the administration since the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term. The other is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Obama lauded Duncan’s efforts at education reform saying “America’s going to be better off for what he has done.”

During his tenure, Duncan occasionally drew the ire of liberals and conservatives for such as initiatives the Race to the Top competitive grant program for states, support of charter schools and the Common Core set of education standards in math and language arts for students in kindergarten through 12th grades. Duncan was largely able to avoid getting mired in congressional politics even as he pushed to increase access to preschool for low-income children, worked to make college more affordable and focused on holding teachers accountable for student progress.

He also supported offering waivers to the often criticized No Child Left Behind Law — as long as states complied with policies the Department of Education pushed.

“Arne bleeds this stuff,” Obama said. “He cares so much about our kids.”

The president, in what later because a wide-ranging press conference spanning such topics as Syria and gun violence, also talked about the need to put political differences aside when it comes to a federal spending bill.

For his part, Duncan thanked the president for creating the climate which allowed him to make strides in education reform.

In an email to staff, Duncan said that he will be returning to Chicago, where he once headed the city’s school system, to live with his family.

“I imagine my next steps will continue to involve the work of expanding opportunity for children, but I have no idea what that will look like yet,” he wrote.

Deputy Secretary John King Jr. will step into his role after Duncan departs. King, 40, joins a relatively “young gun” class of Cabinet members, a group which includes Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, 41, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, 44.

King sounded a personal note when he spoke about being orphaned as a young age and the influence of teachers in his life.

“New York City Public School teachers are the reason I am alive,” King said. “They gave me hope about what could be possible for me in life.”

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com.

Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan to step down in December

Updated