Education Secretary Arne Duncan, one of the longest serving members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his post in December. The president appointed John King Jr., who has been deputy education secretary since January, to serve as the next secretary of education. King was previously New York State’s education commissioner for three-and-a-half years.
Here are three things you should know about the incoming education secretary.
He’s a staunch supporter of Common Core
King was the driving force behind the implementation of Common Core in New York schools. It made him a polarizing figure and triggered waves of controversy with parents and educators. Common Core emphasizes critical thinking, complex problem-solving and writing skills, instead of short answers and memorization. Some politicians, parents and teachers unions argued that schools, particularly those in poor neighborhoods, are not equipped with the necessary learning materials and don’t have adequate time to change over to the testing system.
Those opposed to King’s support of Common Core have protested and called for him to resign. While acknowledging that he understood parent’s concerns, the educator defended the role of the new standardized testing and said most of the concerns “were based on misinformation.”
“The Common Core didn’t invent good teaching, nor does it relieve us of the hard work of implementation. However, the Common Core is the first set of learning standards back-mapped grade by grade from what students need to know and be able to do in college and the workforce,” he wrote in a letter to New York State Board of Regents.
“Recent data on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reveal that when states adopt rigorous learning standards and raise standards for teaching, significant gains in student performance follow,” he added.
King’s appointment as Obama’s education chief is opposed by The New York State United Teachers union. The group, which approved a vote of no confidence and called for King’s removal last year, called on its members to call the White House to “express their displeasure” with his appointment.
He’s a supporter of classroom diversity.
At the National Coalition on School Diversity conference last month, King stressed that racially and socioeconomically integrated classrooms provide better outcomes in students’ academic performances and narrow the achievement gap, Chalkbeat New York reported. He also urged the education department to promote integration so it could revamp low-performing schools.
Nine months after a report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found that New York has the most segregated schools in the country, King announced a grant program in December that would give as much as $1.25 million to support socio-economic integration programs in 25 of the state’s low-performing schools.
Both of his parents were public school educators.
King grew up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and was son of two New York City public school educators, whom “believe that school is at the heart of our promise of equality of opportunity for all Americans,” he said during Friday’s White House press conference. His father was Brooklyn’s first African-American school principal, and his Puerto Rican mother was the first in her family to graduate from college, he wrote in The Huffington Post.
Both of King’s parents had died by the time he was 12, he also said on Friday. He credited his teachers for his success.
“I moved around family members and schools. But teachers, New York City public school teachers, are the reason that I am alive. They’re the reason why I became a teacher. They gave me hope about what is possible and could be possible for me,” he said.
At 24, King co-founded Uncommon Schools, a public charter school network that now has 44 institutions, according to its website.