Former U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has joined the board of Turnitin, an Oakland, Calif.-based company that provides plagiarism detection technology and writing tools for the K-12 and higher education market.
Duncan, who served seven years under the administration of President Barack Obama, joins Turnitin “to support development of instructional writing tools and resources promoting academic integrity, critical thinking, and authentic writing in K-12 and higher education,” according to a statement from the company.
“I look forward to the opportunity to work with Turnitin on scalable initiatives that support the core educational skills and promote student success in K-12, higher education, and beyond,” Duncan said in a statement.
The appointment is just the latest position Duncan has taken in the education sector following his lead role in the federal education department.
Duncan, who served as the Secretary of Education from January 2009 through December 2015 and was also previously the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, is currently the managing partner of education group Emerson Collective, an organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.
He is also a senior advisor for the education sector team of The Rise Fund, an investor in digital learning company EVERFI and serves on the board of Pluralsight, a Utah-based ed-tech company that provides online courses in various subjects, including software development and information technology.
Turnitin offers originality checking and authorship investigation services that aim to ensure academic integrity, promote critical thinking, and help students improve their authentic writing. The company is backed by Insight Venture Partners, GIC, Norwest Venture Partners, Lead Edge Capital and Georgian Partners.
Torsten Geers, a partner with Good Harbor Partners, an education-focused mergers and acquisitions and advisory firm, noted that Turnitin had primarily been an anti-plagiarism tool; historically, the company served the post-secondary education market.
Today, he said, the company is also aimed at supporting all aspects of writing across the curriculum, focused on helping students become better writers. Last month, Turnitin acquired VeriCite, a cloud-based tool that identifies plagiarism, for an undisclosed sum.
Geers said he does not believe that Duncan is going to assume an operational role but rather act “very much like a representative that supports the brand and can attract an audience.”
“On the K-12 side there are a lot of policy and [businesses] deal with districts,” he continued, noting that appointing board members with experience on the political front is critical to the education industry. “An individual such as a former U.S. secretary can open doors.”
Geers, who was formerly head of corporate development and mergers and acquisitions at Cengage Learning, noted that Cengage made a similar appointment to its board of directors in 2015, when it named former U.S. Representative George Miller, D-Calif., as senior education advisor.
At the time of the appointment, Cengage said in a statement that Miller would provide strategic counsel to company executives on a wide range of issues, including public policy and business strategy.
“I think it’s the same principal behind this,” Geers said, referring again to Turnitin’s appointment of Duncan. “To me, it’s a fantastic marketing tool.”