State lawmakers joined Common Core opponents in criticizing President Barack Obama’s nomination of former New York State Education Commissioner John King for U.S. Secretary of Education in the first day of confirmation hearings Thursday.
King, who assumed the role of acting commissioner in January, remains a lightning rod for fury among parents and teachers across New York State upset about his botched implementation of the controversial Common Core education reforms, which led to hundreds of thousands of students across the state and nation “opting out” of taking the standardized tests.
Critics charge King’s previous tenure is proof he is incompetent and therefore unqualified for a higher office that carries nationwide responsibilities.
“The bottom line is putting King as the Secretary of Education is basically perpetuating a flawed program that’s destructive to kids and destructive to schools,” NYS Assemb. Al Graf (R,C,I – Holbrook) tells the Press. “I would think that if they really want to fix education in this country, you want someone with experience in the classroom. And he doesn’t have that. He made a mess of New York, now you’re going to give him the opportunity to make a mess out of the rest of the country?”
Graf accompanied fellow Long Island lawmakers Assemb. Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square), Assemb. Dave McDonough (R,C,I-Merrick) and Assemb. Dean Murray (R,C,I-East Patchogue) in issuing statements calling upon U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Charles Schumer to oppose the confirmation.
“I am disappointed with the decision to nominate King as Arne Duncan’s successor, as it limits the opportunity to revitalize the future of our education system,” slammed Assemb. Ra, ranking minority member of the Assembly Committee on Education, in a press release. “We are encouraging our federal representatives to oppose King’s selection because he is simply not the visionary our students deserve.
“In order to be successful in our efforts, we must keep our calls for appropriate educational standards, local control, and decreased reliance on mandated testing consistent at the state and federal levels,” he continued.
Despite the bashing, King, who grew up in Brooklyn and whose parents were lifelong public school educators, credited education with saving his life during testimony before the U.S. Senate Education Committee Thursday.
“I’m mindful of how remarkable it is that I am here at all,” he told federal lawmakers. “Some of you may know, I believe education is the difference between hope and despair, between life and death even, because it was for me.”
Describing a “scary and unpredictable” home life following the death of his mother when he was 8 years old and the loss of his father to undiagnosed Alzheimer’s disease just four years later, King stated:
“Amidst that trauma and uncertainty, school was my refuge and teachers were my saviors.”
His personal battles aside, King remains within the crosshairs of local anti-Common Core advocates, among them, the Patchogue-Medford School District went so far as to adopt a resolution opposing his nomination, with its Board of Education declaring:
“We cannot help but conclude that amplifying Dr. King’s abject failure as the leader of the educational establishment in New York State to the federal level is good for no one.”
The resolution put forth a recommendation stipulating that “the President of the United States nominate, for our nation, a Secretary of Education who is proven leader in education, who has extensive public school experience, and proven success, as a both a teacher and administrator, who will be responsive to others, while being empathetic to the realistic needs of our nation’s students and working with the educational community.”
Patchogue-Medford Superintendent Michael Hynes tells the Press via Facebook: “In his short tenure as the Commissioner of Education, John King has done more damage to the children in the state of NY then the past five commissioners combined.”
In a feature report titled “John King: More of the Same or Worse” for the education advocacy nonprofit Network for Public Education, Executive Director Carol Burris (former principal of Rockville Centre’s South Side High School) detailed King’s experience leading up to this nomination, describing King as an inadequate leader who oversaw disastrous education policy. Burris examines not only King’s lack of experience as a classroom educator, but within the realm of public education. His experience, it states, centered around only private and charter schools for a total of three years before taking a position as managing director of the Uncommon Schools chain of charter schools.
Burris describes King as “inflexible” and “quick to criticize” those who opposed his views while education commissioner. Under his tenure, the “opt-out” movement in New York grew such that an estimated 240,000 students refused the tests, and 625,000 nationwide, according to nonprofit The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
Burris also criticizes King’s decision to “stay the course” after it was apparent that the Common Core initiative was riddled with flaws that invalidated the efforts of the education community and discouraged thousands of educators, students, and parents throughout the state.
“The 2013 Common Core tests were a disaster,” Burris writes. “The setting of unreasonably high proficiency cut scores, the length of the tests, and confusing and overly difficult questions caused both scores and parent confidence to plummet.
“Principals reported young children in tears, becoming physically ill,” she adds. “The 2014 tests were a rerun of the previous year, and the achievement gap and the Opt Out movement grew. In 2014, the New York State United Teachers called for John King’s resignation.”