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Acting U.S. Education Secretary: Civil rights community must be vigilant

John B. King Jr., left, became Acting Education Secretary on January 1, replacing Arne Duncan, who stepped down to move home to Chicago to be with his family. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)
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John B. King Jr. plans to use his first speech as acting U.S. Education Secretary to call on the civil rights community to be vigilant as the nation ushers in a new federal law affecting its 100,000 public schools.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law that replaces No Child Left Behind, is expected to shift a significant amount of authority in public education from the federal government to the states.

Speaking in Washington on the holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, King plans to say that the Every Student Succeeds Act is a “good law” that preserves an important role in education for the federal government. But “the new and larger role for states should be seen as a clarion call in the civil rights community,” he plans to say, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

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He says civil rights advocacy will be especially important in three areas: ensuring equity, promoting diversity and designing school accountability systems, or “defining what learning progress means.”

Minority students’ high school graduation rates are up, King plans to say, but there are still troubling gaps between the nation’s most-privileged and least-privileged children. “Our African-American and Latino and poor children still stand too far behind their peers in nearly every important measure of school achievement,” he will say, according to his prepared remarks.

King became acting secretary on January 1, taking over for Arne Duncan, who stepped down to move home to Chicago, where his family lives.