Dozens of students, parents, educators and activists are urging the U.S. Senate not to confirm John King, President Obama’s choice to succeed Arne Duncan as education secretary, because he pushed education policies when he was education commissioner of New York State that they say were “ineffective and destructive.”
The Senate education committee held confirmation hearings last week and his confirmation by the panel and the full Senate is expected this month. But a growing number of King critics are speaking out, including a few school boards in New York, which passed resolutions against his confirmation. Now a letter signed by a long list of individuals and organizations warns senators not to be “misled” by King’s “vague promises to do better.” Signatories include education historian and activist Diane Ravitch, educator Deborah Meier, and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
King was education commissioner in New York from 2011 until December 2014, when he left under pressure and it was announced that he was moving to Washington to become No. 2 to Duncan. When Duncan left his job at the end of last year, King took over as acting education secretary, and Obama recently sent his name up to the Senate for confirmation as the official education chief. During the hearing, senators managed to avoid asking him any direct questions about his difficult tenure as New York’s education boss.
During that tenure, King led a series of highly controversial school reforms that included a new teacher evaluation system using student standardized test scores that critics say is nonsensical (for example, art teachers were evaluated by student math test scores). His oversight of the implementation of the Common Core standards and aligned Pearson-designed standardized tests was considered such a disaster that New York. Gov Andrew Cuomo wrote in a letter to top state education officials that “Common Core’s implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start.” King’s testing policies led to the creation of an opt-out movement in New York, in which 20 percent of test-takers statewide sat out the tests this spring.
The letter was primarily written by Nikhil Goyal, who, at 20, is the author of the new book, “Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice,” and who wrote his first book, “One Size Does Not Fit All,” when he was a 17-year-old student at Syosset High School in Long Island. Goyal has appeared on MSNBC and FOX and written for the New York Times, MSNBC, The Nation, and other publications. Goyal has also had speaking engagements with the Clinton Global Initiative University, Google, Stanford, University of Cambridge, SXSW, LEGO Foundation, among others. In 2013, he was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Freedom Flame Award. He lives in New York.
Goyal said he got assistance with the letter from Carol Burris, a former New York high school principal who is now executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education. A frequent contributor to The Answer Sheet, she was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, the same organization named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year. He also got help from Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a nonprofit organization that works to end the misuses of standardized testing.
Here’s the letter: