As of January 1, John King, Jr. has become Acting US Secretary of Education to fill in the gap left by Arne Duncan. So what will this former education commissioner of New York State devote his attention to during his tenure?
King, Jr. comes from a solid education background with great respect for teachers. “New York City public school teachers are the reason that I am alive,” he said at a press conference. “They are the reason that I became a teacher. They are the reason I am standing here today.” Both of his parents were teachers in New York City public schools when he was growing up. School was a stable place for him amidst personal family drama, and the support he received there inspired him to try his hand at education as a high school social studies teacher, a middle school principal, and finally as a state education commissioner.
But King, Jr. also alienated many of the teachers he worked with in New York by being one of the first to implement the Common Core standards, as well as expanding charter schools and increasing focus on student test scores.
His task now will likely be to enact the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act. However, much of that will be happening at the state level. As Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute notes, “Congress, when writing that law, went out of its way to tie the hands of the new education secretary. What we’ll be watching to see is whether John King tries to push up against some of those limitations that Congress set.”
On the Department of Education’s blog, King, Jr. stresses more lofty goals than just enacting something Congress set in motion. “In 2016 I hope you’ll join me as I recommit myself to ensuring that every child in America—regardless of background or circumstance—has access to an excellent education,” he wrote.