The Washington Post’s teaser
for its online story says it all: “If you think Duncan was controversial, meet his successor.” The Post is referring, of course, to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement earlier today that he is stepping down. And his successor, at least on an interim basis, is none other than former New York State Education Commissioner John King.
The news probably has charter school advocates giggling with delight and traditional public school boards, teachers, and administrators feeling a little apprehensive. And with good reason.
King was commissioner from 2011 to 2015 and he made several trips to Rochester. He is soft-spoken, accessible, and extremely intelligent – though a bit of a wonk. His admirers, and there are many, say that his training at Harvard and leadership of Uncommon Schools, a charter school group, made him a strong, no-nonsense reformer. Though he never spoke publicly against unions, he certainly wasn’t beholden to them, either.
King’s critics, and there are many of them, too, say that he had little teaching experience in urban public schools and spoke like the typical “just-go-do-it” autocrat. He strongly pushed for teacher evaluations tied to test scores and rushed a rollout of the controversial Common Core curriculum before most states in the nation.
The latter was a major fiasco. In an effort to calm mounting complaints from teachers and parents about the Common Core’s launch – and the sudden statewide drop in test scores that followed – King set out on a “Listening Tour.” That didn’t go well, either. The public meetings were cancelled after King was shouted off the stage during one such meeting in a downstate city.
King will replace a person who has often been described as President Obama’s closest friend. In spite of the many well-known problems with former President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law, Obama’s “Race to the Top” was more or less an extension of it. "Race" promised extra federal funding to states in exchange for implementing reform measures.
King will probably continue with Duncan and Obama’s education agenda. But much like Obama, he’ll have to deal with a Republican Congress and many members who are not at all sold on the Common Core.