4 Things to Know About John King, the Next Education Secretary
The surprising news that Arne Duncan, the Education Secretary, will be resigning by the end of the year also included the announcement that John B. King Jr., a current advisor for K-12 programs, will serve as the department’s acting leader when Duncan returns to Chicago.
King has had a lengthy career in education, having been a classroom teacher, co-founder of a charter school in Boston, leader of a charter management group in New York, and, prior to joining the Education Department earlier this year, served as the New York state education commissioner.
During his three and a half years leading schools in New York, King was responsible for implementing the Common Core and a new teacher evaluation system that was tied to student test scores. Here are four key points to know about the upcoming leader of the Education Department for the remainder of the Obama administration:
1. He Faced Criticism over the Common Core
As the overseer of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in New York, King became the target of much criticism from students, parents, and teachers concerning the standards. He faced heated public hearings, with The New York Times reporting that he was shushed, booed, and ridiculed by those in attendance. Parents accused him of being unsympathetic to students’ struggle with standardized tests and too willing to involve commercial interests in the education system. Teachers blamed him for taking away the joy in their profession. Following a particularly contentious hearing in Poughkeepsie, King and the state education department cancelled the rest of the listening tour. This move was criticized by state legislators, leading to the event being quickly reinstated with a new format.
2. He Emphasizes the Importance of Integration
One of King’s last actions as the New York state education commissioner was to offer $10 million in state funds to New York City in order to pilot a program aimed at increasing diversity in low-performing schools. Eight "focus" schools had the potential to receive up to $1.25 million each, which would be used for the implementation of new programs or admissions policies designed to attract students from higher-income families. King has been addressing this issue for several years, stating in 2012 that the method used by the city to assign students resulted in some schools being overwhelmed by high-needs students, preventing them from excelling.
3. Unions Are Not Supportive
The largest union in New York expressed a lack of confidence in King in 2014 due to his handling of the Common Core rollout. Additionally, upon the announcement that King would take on the leadership role in Washington, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten released a statement criticizing him. Weingarten acknowledged King’s dedication to children but pointed out the polarization that resulted from his tenure as New York state’s education commissioner, even leading Governor Andrew Cuomo to admit the negative impact of an excessive focus on testing. Weingarten expressed hope that King has learned from his time in New York.
4. He Attributes His Success to New York City Teachers
King’s mother, a guidance counselor from Puerto Rico, passed away when he was eight years old, and his father, the first African-American principal in Brooklyn, passed away when he was 12. During this tumultuous time, King moved between different family members, and he credits his success to his teachers. He stated during a press conference that New York City public school teachers are the reason for his survival, his decision to become a teacher himself, and his current position. In a 2011 interview with The New York Times, he specifically mentioned his fourth grade teacher at PS 276 in Canarsie and a middle school social studies teacher who gave him a creative assignment on the Aztecs.
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