King of Common Core: 4 Key Things to Know About the New Education Secretary

John King Jr., a leading advocate of the controversial Common Core education standards and student databases, will have a ceremonial swearing in Wednesday by Vice President Joe Biden.

He will likely be serving less than a year in the job, taking over from former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, after narrowly being confirmed by a plurality of the U.S. Senate in a 49-40 vote. Here are the key things to know about Obama’s newest Cabinet member.

New York state Commissioner of Education John King Jr., left, talks about standardized test scores during a news conference in New York last month. New York is only the second state, after Kentucky, to test students based on the more rigorous Common Core learning standards. Photo Credit: Richard Drew/AP
Then-New York state Commissioner of Education John King Jr., left, talks to the press about using Common Core learning standards. King was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as President Barack Obama’s newest secretary of education. (Richard Drew/AP)

No. 1: Common Core Support Prompted Largest Opt-Out

King served as the New York state Education Commissioner from 2011 through 2014, when stringent Common Core testing standards were implemented, and faced intense opposition from both parent groups and teachers unions. But he secured the federal “Race to the Top” grants.

The Washington Post reported how people reacted in the state:

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.”

After leaving New York, he served as the deputy education secretary under Duncan.

No. 2: ‘No’ on School Vouchers; ‘Yes’ on Charter Schools

Two key issues for school-choice advocates are vouchers, and, in lieu of vouchers, more charter schools. King favors only the latter. During his Senate confirmation hearing, King stated he was opposed to the voucher program for poor students in Washington, D.C., because vouchers are not a “scalable solution to the equity and excellence challenge in public schools.”

King has been a longtime charter school supporter, having founded one in 1999 near Boston called the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School. It became the highest-performing urban middle school in Massachusetts, according to U.S. News and World Report. He later helped open several more in New York City as the managing director of the nonprofit Uncommon Schools, which oversees 24 charter schools.

No. 3: Student Data Base

King has also spoken in favor of a national student database known as inBloom, which prompted outrage among many New York public school parents.

The Home School Legal Defense Association, which opposed King’s nomination, described inBloom as a “controversial company formed with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a national database of student-specific data.”

No. 4: Taking on Teachers Unions

King might be on the same page as some conservative school reformers in battling teacher unions, however, much of that has been based on his support for Common Core and judging teachers according to student test results.

In 2014, New York state teachers called for his resignation. After his nomination to the post last year, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said:

We are disappointed to hear that Deputy Secretary of Education John King Jr. will be appointed as the acting secretary. No one doubts John’s commitment to children, but his tenure as New York state’s education commissioner created so much polarization in the state with parents and educators alike that even Gov. Andrew Cuomo is finally doing a mea culpa over the obsession with testing. We can only hope that King has learned a thing or two since his tenure in New York.

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