News emanating from the U.S. Senate these days centers on Republican determination not to give even a passing glance to any nomination that President Obama sends to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the recent death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. What got less attention was the astounding pass the Senate education committee just gave to Obama’s nominee as the new education secretary, John King.
During confirmation hearings late last week before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Acting Education Secretary John King was not asked one single direct question about the tumultuous 3 ½ years he spent as the commissioner of education in New York state. Not by Republicans, and not by Democrats.
Nobody, apparently, was interested enough in asking him to explain the turmoil in New York education during his tenure. What turmoil? As blogger Peter Greene succinctly wrote, “Under King, Common Core implementation was a disaster, teacher evaluation was a disaster, testing was a disaster, massive data gathering was a disaster, and having public meetings to manage public reaction to the other disasters was a disaster.”
King’s program sparked the largest testing opt-out movement in the country, with some 20 percent of all students refusing to take the Common Core standardized tests mandated by the state last spring. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who supported the principles of King’s reform, lost faith in his ability to lead the implementation. King left his job abruptly late last year — with some “goodbye and good riddance” messages, including one December 2014 newspaper editorial titled “Commissioner King’s Tone Deaf Legacy” — and was tapped by Arne Duncan, Obama’s long-time education secretary, who brought King in as his No. 2 at the department. When Duncan left late last year, King became the acting secretary, and Obama, ever supportive, decided that he should officially be the education secretary and sent his name up to the Senate for confirmation.
It’s not much of a surprise that Obama and Duncan would ignore King’s track record in New York running the state education department. The administration itself long ignored a rebellion among parents, educators and students to its standardized test-centric school reform policies, and Duncan himself was known to denigrate critics. Embracing someone who ignored his own critics seems right in step.
But you’d think that someone on the Senate education committee would have been interested enough to ask King about what happened in New York. Here’s a description of the proceedings from my colleague, Emma Brown:
King faced a number of questions during the two-hour hearing about his vision for implementing the nation’s new federal education law. Senators also asked about his plans to ensure that the department’s trillion-dollar federal student loan program is fair to borrowers and taxpayers; about his plans to fix security weaknesses in databases that hold sensitive personal information of students and loan recipients; and about the Obama administration’s oppositions to vouchers.
But the tone was collegial and there appeared to be bipartisan optimism that King’s confirmation will go smoothly.
It is worth noting that Congress was furious with Duncan by the time he vacated the job he’d held for some seven years, accusing him of micro-managing education policy. In fact, Congress finally voted last December — eight years late — to replace No Child Left Behind with a new U.S. K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in part as a reaction to what it perceived as overreach by the Obama administration.
The committee chairman, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, asked King for a timeline of implementing the new ESSA, but King didn’t have one to offer. Nobody asked why.
Some New Yorkers are upset with the elevation of King at the U.S. Education Department, and a few school boards have gone to the trouble of passing resolutions urging that King not be approved — which nevertheless is expected both by the Senate panel and the full Senate.
Here’s a resolution from the Patchogue-Medford school district on Long Island in New York, which was endorsed by the school board of Ossining: