In a 49-40 vote Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed President Barack Obama’s nominee for U.S. Department of Education secretary, former New York State education commissioner John B. King, Jr., inciting harsh criticism from education advocates across New York, as well as a denunciation from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
“John King’s tenure in New York was very adversarial, leaving families, students and teachers without a voice on important issues, and therefore I cannot support his nomination at this time,” says Sen. Gillibrand, who voted against King, in a statement.
New York’s other U.S. senator, Chuck Schumer, voted in favor of King’s confirmation.
The split vote comes amid ever-growing protests against King’s nomination and the controversial education reform Common Core instigated by statewide education advocates, who had experienced firsthand the aftermath of his tenure. More than 240,000 students statewide “opted-out” of taking the exams last April. Sen. Gillibrand was the lone Democrat opposing King’s nod.
King remains a controversial figure in New York education. Known for his unrelenting stance to stay the course on the Common Core rollout, he has been accused by critics of turning a deaf ear to students for whom the education reform failed. The Common Core Learning Standards, created by the National Governor’s Association and Council of State School Officers, was born from President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which granted funds to states that implemented the national reforms. New York received $700 million in Race to the Top funding.
Common Core’s rollout was flawed from the start, with teachers given inadequate preparation for teaching the new materials, which were riddled with typographical errors and mistakes, confusing parents, educators and children. The new reforms were included in the state exams, given each April in math and English for grades 3 through 8. Critics blasted the tests for being shrouded in secrecy, its scores not released until the following school year, and the content developmentally inappropriate for the grade levels.
Protestors took to forums and social media to voice their frustration and call for change. One event at Ward Melville High School in fall 2013 featured King and then-Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch in their first stop on a Common Core “listening tour” after they’d been shouted down by parents and teachers in Poughkeepsie.
That night in Suffolk County, Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association President Beth Dimino told then-Commissioner King:
“Psychologists are now diagnosing our children with a syndrome directly related to work they are doing in the classroom. I tell you, Mr. King, because you’ve awoken the mommies, you’re in trouble.”
True to her word, protestors refused to let up on King, calling for his resignation after last year’s round of state tests. He left his post in New York to travel to Washington, D.C., to accompany then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan, whom he has just succeeded.
Jeanette Deutermann, a Long Island parent, founder of the Long Island Opt-Out Info Facebook page, and co-founder of nonprofit New York State Allies for Public Education, blasted King’s ascension Tuesday via her popular Facebook page.
“It is inconceivable that a man synonymous with failed education policies could be promoted to the highest education post in our nation,” she slams. “The incompetence of John King as New York’s SED Commissioner was epic, and New York will be cleaning up the mess he made for years to come. The silver lining may be the igniting of an education uprising across the country the way his leadership, or lack thereof, ignited New York.”
That “ignition” is the robust, pro-public education and anti-Common Core movement that sparked parents, educators, and students to organize, protest, and take action against the education reforms they believed were undermining public education.
Michael Hynes, superintendent of Patchogue-Medford schools, finds the idea of King as U.S. Secretary of Education “beyond appalling.”
“It’s really scary to think that that gentleman, and I’m being kind by saying that, has the potential to reframe or to move forward with what Arnie Duncan has started,” he told the Press in January. “This is a guy who is pro-charter, his kids go to Montessori school. I really believe he doesn’t know anything about public education. And now potentially he will set policy nationwide.”
Marla Kilfoyle, a social studies teacher at Oceanside High School, outspoken Common Core critic and cofounder of the anti-Common Core coalition Badass Teachers Association, aka BAT, is “simply disgusted,” she tells the Press.
“The appointment of John King is an unbelievable disappointment to parents, teachers, and students,” she blasts. “Thousands upon thousands of letters were sent detailing why he should not be appointed. The letters sent were from New Yorkers who have experienced his failed leadership which has subsequently destroyed education in New York State. The fact that he produced the largest parent testing revolt in the country and was promoted to be in charge of education at the national level flies in the face of good reason.”
Also weighing in on the news of King’s confirmation Tuesday was Dr. Mark Naison, professor of history and chair of African and African American studies at Fordham University, an outspoken Common Core critic, who brands it a “shameful episode” in the history of U.S. education. He predicts its ramifications will be felt by Democrats in the 2016 presidential election.
“The United States Senate, at the bidding of our President, decided to display its contempt for the collective voices of teachers, students and families who have been in revolt against the excessive testing being inflicted on the nation’s public schools,” he tells the Press. “By appointing John King, whose policies provoked the largest test revolt in U.S. history in New York State, as Secretary of Education, the Senate basically signaled to the nation that the voices of lobbyists, profiteers and privatizers count more than the opinions of those who actually spend their lives in the nation’s public schools.”
A call to King for comment has not been returned as of press time.